Enquirer Herald

Last day of school in York is also last day in distinctive building

Xzavier Griffith grew to like the oddly shaped building in which he spent several hundred hours this school year.

It took some getting used to for the 16-year-old sophomore who moved to York from Baltimore last year. He got lost trying to navigate circular walkways, and having to walk through several classrooms full of students just to leave class was awkward.

But with 30 minutes left on the last day of school of York Comprehensive High's last day in the old building, Griffith wished he could come back next year.

"I was looking forward to fooling the kids moving in," said Griffith, who recalled the first day of school when his cousin tricked him into sitting in the wrong homeroom for a while. "You kind of grow to love it here."

Teachers, administrators, custodians and students spent Thursday, the last day of school, packing papers, books and a lot of other things collected over the years. The high school is moving to a new building, still under construction at the corner of Alexander Love Highway and Lincoln Road.

Ninth-graders, who have been attending York Junior High because the high school was too cramped to accommodate them, will join their peers at the new campus. The old high school is being renovated and will be the district's new middle school.

"All year long it's been mixed emotions," Principal Diane Howell said.

York Comprehensive High, opened in 1976, was one of three high schools in South Carolina modeled on the open classroom concept that was all the rage in the 1960s. Classrooms were separated only be partitions. Teachers taught side by side, while students tried to tune out the lesson next door and focus.

"It was chaos," said math teacher William Good, who has taught at the school since it opened. "They used to throw paper airplanes across partitions.

"Class control had to be very good. At times you were successful. At times you were not."

The campus is comprised of pods, or hexagon-shaped clusters of six classrooms encircling a center office. Walls have since been installed, creating adjacent classrooms. But to step out for water or a bathroom break, students and teachers had to walk through two or three neighboring classes to get to an exit. It's frustrating for some, endearing for others.

"You can do a lot with these pods," said French and drama teacher Polly Adkins, who also has taught since the campus opened. "There are little nooks and crannies."

Adkins has a keen sense for the bright side: Since there are no windows, you don't see when the weather's bad she said. That also means more wall space for student artwork.

Getting around will be easier for the middle schoolers next school year. The district is building a hallway around classrooms and giving each an exit.

Adkins and Good recalled their time teaching before York Comprehensive High. They were at York High, now Harold C. Johnson Middle, when three schools -- Hickory Grove, York and Jefferson, a black school -- were combined.

"I remember way back in the '70s when we had the riots," Adkins said. "Those were trying times. It was racial tension, but it was also regional tension."

Police were brought in to keep the peace.

A day of fighting was followed by a couple weeks of commotion, then things calmed, Good said.

Still, for several years the school had three sets of colors and three mascots, because no one wanted to give theirs up.

York Comprehensive High brought a new beginning and a new mascot, the cougar.

"This school, to me, represents the unity of the community," Adkins said. "It's sad to leave it."

New school 'like a college'

Students are excited about the new school. Several have seen the building, which boasts "green" technology, a high-tech football field and lots of large windows.

"It's huge," sophomore Michael Wagner said.

"It looks like a college," sophomore Jasmine Lane added.

The main reason for moving, school leaders said, is that the student body has long outgrown the campus.

The school, built for 800 to 900 students, had around 1,100 students this year. That's not counting ninth grade, which was moved to York Junior High in the late 1990s because of crowding.

Sophomore Leah Burris believes the new school will offer more opportunities.

"I like it, because it's like we're coming up," she said. "We'll pretty much all be freshmen next year."