Visionary school looks back
By Amy Bounds, Camera Staff Writer January 3, 2006
Boys flying model airplanes in the gym.
Selling "war" stamps. Everyone walking to school and back home for lunch. Girls as bell ringers in Christmas performances. Arbor Day celebrations.
Those who attended and worked at University Hill Elementary over the past 100 years have a flood of stories about a school that became a Boulder institution.
"There are a thousand memories," said Anne Riley, who attended Uni Hill in the 1930s.
University Hill is collecting those memories of past students, teachers and principals for a booklet to commemorate the school's birthday. Jan. 12 will mark a century after the stately brick building opened its doors in central Boulder at 956 16th St. across from the University of Colorado.
"I've talked to amazing people," said University Hill secretary Kim Moore. "It's just been wonderful. We feel so loved by the community."
The earliest recollections are from those who attended in the 1920s, when an addition was built on the east side for junior high children.
Ernie Lacer started in first grade at University Hill in 1922 and graduated from the school's ninth grade in 1933, attending a couple of other schools in between when his family moved around.
"University Hill was wonderful," said Lacer, who's now 88 and still lives in Boulder.
Strict but kind is how he described principal F.A. Boggess, who lived in a cottage next to the school and led it from 1911 until his retirement in 1937. "It seemed like he was there 24 hours a day," Lacer said.
Days of red and white
Riley attended University Hill from 1931 through 1940. One of her favorite traditions was costume day, when students came dressed as characters in a book and put on a parade.
She said students were scared to death of Principal Boggess, who made then stand at attention whenever a funeral procession went down Broadway or any time the flag was raised.
"He really demanded a lot of us, and we really didn't seem to mind," she said.
She still has poems that Boggess' wife, a fourth-grade teacher, wrote about each of her students. She also has the red-and-white felt "U" that Boggess gave students for reading books and memorizing poems. Students also wore red and white, the school colors, on special occasions.
The school motto, Riley said, was "no privileges without responsibility" and the nickname was "southside," in reference to Boulder's other junior high, Northside - now Casey Middle School.
Attending the school at the same time was Ray Joyce, who was Uni Hill's head boy in ninth grade. He met his wife, then the head girl at Northside, when their student councils held a joint meeting.
On his walk to school on the first day, Joyce said, he ran into a boy named Scott Carpenter - now famous as the second American to orbit Earth in his career as an astronaut. The two went to school together through high school and remain friends.
"We helped each other find our way," Joyce said.
Joyce now goes back to University Hill as a Boulder Rotary Club member, participating the last three years in a letter-writing project with fourth-grade students.
In 1946, I.A. Butler moved to Boulder and secured a job as a science, math and shop teacher at University Hill after teaching high school in Kentucky and serving in World War II.
"Boulder was new and it was exciting," said Butler, now 95. "I was probably more excited to go to the school than the children themselves."
He spent a couple of years as Whittier Elementary's principal before returning as Uni Hill's principal in 1951. By then, Uni Hill had started focusing on its students' social development instead of working so hard to instill proper manners.
With most families coming from the University of Colorado, Butler said, his parents were very interested in their children's education. His good working relationship with parents developed into lasting friendships, while former students also kept in touch as they grew up.
He's still friends with Boulder's Juana Mae Lefferdink, a retired University Hill sixth-grade teacher who he first met in 1946. Not only a colleague, Lefferdink also taught all three of his children when they attended University Hill.
While Butler was there, the "primary" building - sometimes dubbed "puny Uni" by students - was added at 17th Street for the lower elementary grades to accommodate an influx of families.
Butler saw Uni Hill enrollment swell to 700 students - a fifth of the district's 3,500 students.
He left Uni Hill in 1954 when the junior high program was moved to the newly built Base Line Junior High because of the enrollment boom. He served as Base Line's principal for 10 years, then 10 years as Southern Hills Junior High's principal until he retired in 1974.
One of the school's long-standing traditions, which may have started in the 1930s, is celebrating Arbor Day and planting memorial trees for students and staff members. In 1974, the school planted an ash tree for a former student who died at age 12.
Uni Hill is considering planting another tree this year and resuming the Arbor Day tradition. A tradition that remains from as far back as the '20s is a walk under a white archway for each graduating class.
Old becomes new
University Hill's primary building and main building were consolidated in 1980 because of declining enrollment, with kindergarten through sixth-grade classes all held in the main building.
The school itself was consolidated with Lincoln Elementary when Lincoln was closed in 1982. Lincoln Principal Naomi Grothjan brought her experiential program to University Hill.
After several years of school board discussion, University Hill and its experiential program became the district's first "alternative" school in 1986.
Grothjan died in 1990 from cancer, prompting teachers to propose a different leadership style based on Grothjan's ideas of shared responsibility.
University Hill in 1991 became the first school to win a waiver from the Colorado Department of Education to have lead teachers instead of a principal. The school library also is named after Grothjan.
In the '90s, University Hill was a K-5 experiential school with both a bilingual program and a non-bilingual program that served students from across Boulder as a "focus" school.
The school building was designated as a local historic landmark in 1998 thanks to a lobbying effort by parents after the school was targeted for closure.
In 2003, Washington Elementary closed and merged with University Hill, making University Hill one of two dual-immersion bilingual programs in Boulder Valley.
The experiential program was closed this fall, with the 318-student school now offering a more traditional dual-immersion bilingual program and going back to a principal leadership model.
Uni Hill parent Soraya Smith has a third-grader and a first-grader at the school this year. She stuck with Uni Hill after Washington closed because of the bilingual program.
"It is a gift to grow up bilingual," she said.
She said Principal Boggess was known for introducing new ideas, teaching tolerance and pushing children to become "global citizens" instead of concentrating solely on the three "Rs."
That's a direction she hopes Uni Hill maintains for another hundred years.
"It's really important that we open our children's
minds," Smith said.