Saturday, June 03, 2006

Still a class act as time goes by

The Miami Herald



In 1965, 16-year-old Pat Allen played the cello with her school orchestra and spent lazy Saturday afternoons at the center in Bunche Park watching movies with her friends. She was also a dedicated member of the youth choir at her neighborhood church, Mount Zion. She looked forward to her senior year of high school.

But at the end of her junior year, her cozy world was shaken when officials announced that her school, North Dade Junior/Senior High School, at 1840 NW 157th St., would close to comply with a state integration order.

''They wanted us to go to Carol City High,'' Allen remembers. ''We didn't think it was a good idea. We had already invested five years at North Dade, where we received a great education.''

When word spread that the festivities designed to celebrate their senior year would be curbed in an effort to discourage students from attending, many left. Those who stayed and became the school's last graduating class will celebrate their 40th reunion this summer.

''The majority wanted to stay,'' Allen remembered. ''But the county changed the school bus routes, so many of our classmates no longer had transportation to school. I lived close enough so that I could walk to school. My parents were very supportive of my decision to stay during my senior year.''

Allen watched sadly as her class size dwindled from about 180 students to fewer than 150. They left behind a school that the community had valued.

''We had an orchestra, a band and extremely caring teachers,'' Allen said. ''They lived in our neighborhood and would stop by to check up on us. I think they [administrators] took the path of least resistance by moving us out instead of improving the school, books and the quality of education.''

After the members of the Class of 1966 placed their tassels on the right side of their graduation caps, North Dade Junior/Senior High School closed its doors for the last time, re-opening later as North Dade Middle School.

Allen, who has since enjoyed several careers, including supervisor of reservations for Eastern Airlines and being the mother of a son and daughter, now enjoys spending time with her four grandchildren.

In June, she and other members of the North Dade Junior/Senior High School Class of 1966 will meet in Miami to celebrate their 40th reunion. The group holds formal reunions every 10 years but makes sure to get together in between the decades to check on each other.

The Rev. Dr. Walter T. Richardson, the pastor of Sweet Home Baptist Church in Perrine, served as senior class president in 1966 and was appointed class reunion president. ''We have formal reunions every 10 years but we do stuff in between like dances and fundraisers,'' Richardson said. ''We played together. We worshipped together. We went to school together. We're family.''

On a recent Saturday, 30 members of the class met at the school to pose for The Miami Herald in their first class photo, 40 years after graduation.

''I was extremely excited about seeing classmates that I hadn't seen in well over 20 years,'' Allen said. ''We love the school and we wanted to come back ourselves to validate that community schools really are the best things for students.''

The 40-year reunion will include a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico, June 19-23, a fish fry June 24 and a worship service at Sweet Home Baptist Church in Perrine June 25. Call the Rev. Dr. Walter T. Richardson at 305-233-5653 for information. Today is the deadline to secure a place on the cruise.

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