Changing times

Learning from the history of education in Gresham


Brad Cook

The entrance of the GHS gymnasium prior to the renovations that began in 2018

Dylan Hess, Staff Writer

    ‘Back in my day, we had to walk 3 miles to school every morning in the snow!’ It’s unknown if it actually was like that going to school in the past, but it was definitely different. Society and education has changed over the past one hundred years. Gresham High has seen many changes recently: returning to a newly constructed building, wearing masks, and social distancing, all have been challenges that many have had a hard time adapting to. However, the history of education in Gresham has been full of challenges, yet students and teachers have worked together to create a welcoming community.

    “Education was important to Gresham’s early settlers.” Executive Director of the Gresham Historical Society Mark Moore said. “Many of them brought textbooks over the trail with them to educate their children when they arrived in Oregon. Parents were the primary educators of their children, but settlers felt the need to establish organized schools.”    

   At the time, some settlers would offer their houses for use as schoolhouses, and students would walk to the nearest one. The first official schoolhouse was a log building built in 1860 by settler Noah Cornutt.

   “The schoolhouse was built on the location where West Gresham Grade School stands today.” Moore said.

   The log building was replaced in 1874 by a white schoolhouse building that doubled as a church.  However, the building seemed to have quite the case of bad luck, due to the fact that it “lost its roof in 1880 during a windstorm and burned in 1882 during a forest fire.” Moore said.

   It was rebuilt quickly, and then again in 1901. In 1923, the West Gresham building that stands today was built. In 1902, the locals decided to add a ninth grade to Gresham schools, so youth could receive the benefits of higher learning. In the following years, the 10-12 grades would be created so that Gresham could provide a full high school education to students.

   “The first high school class was taught in 1903. By 1906, there were two students in the senior class, and by 1914, a total of 72 Gresham students graduated from high school,” Moore said.

   Gresham Union High School opened in 1915 at its current location and has been expanded over the years, with a gym, pool and cafeteria, all the way up to the recent remodeling of the building, and the rest is history. But someone has to keep such a huge building running and in good condition, and that man is custodian RJ Connell

   “The bottom line is: we provide enhanced deliverance of all custodial/maintenance and exterior services for all staff and students here at GHS,” custodian RJ Connell said. “That includes daily cleaning and sanitizing, as well as the maintenance and preventive maintenance that is necessary to protect the public investment in our school.” 

 The task of maintaining our school has changed throughout the pandemic, and as students have returned to in-person classes this fall.

   “Wearing masks daily, the constant disinfecting of the building’s touch points [like doorknobs and light switches] and [combined with] the overall volume of the student population increase.”

   Connell explained that the new areas are easier to clean and maintain, but the multiple floors and a large amount of ground to cover make it “almost a wash.” It’s obviously strange working during the school year with the pandemic. But the custodians maintained the building even as everyone else was working and learning from home.

   “Well, it was much different. We really concentrated on refurbishing the older parts of the school, like the pool, Health, and PE areas, along with the old health building which is now the REY program building. That meant heavy cleaning, painting, and reorganization of storage areas,” Connell said.

   Just like the custodians, students and teachers alike will have to push through to get work done this year. The building you learn in every day can have a big impact on your experience of school, but arguably one thing is more important; school spirit.

   “The spaces we live and work in shape us, and over time we shape them,” former GHS social studies teacher Jay Lehr said.“When it’s all done and you’re properly settled into the new GHS, school spirit will be expressed and lived differently than it was in the old building. But I believe the new building provides some great opportunities for “school spirit” to become something new, different, fun and exciting,” Lehr taught at Gresham for 30 years and was also a graduate of Gresham’s class of 1981. 

   Lehr said that school spirit isn’t any one factor, but a variety of them. Cheering at a football game, forming clubs, helping each other academically, and respecting the building’s public spaces were all examples he gave to help make our school a community.

   “If everyone works to make their time at GHS the best experience for themselves AND for everyone around them – that is school spirit. School spirit shouldn’t just be saved for sporting events, assemblies, or posters on the wall. True school spirit happens all the time, every day,” Lehr said.

    Things have changed since Lehr was a student, for example the ‘shop class’ electives (such as woodworking), and homecoming used to have an entire parade down Main Street to Main City Park. But according to Lehr, school spirit “isn’t something that just happens.”

   “I hear so many students lamenting the lack of school spirit at GHS, so I know it is something lots of people yearn to feel, to have that connection to school and the people in it,” Lehr said. “I’m confident that with thoughtful planning and effort, GHS will find the best “school spirit” for today’s building and today’s students.”