by Jenn Goad

Many school buildings in Howard County are relatively young. With the exception of Central Middle School, only one other building in the county can boast a birth year before 1920. Howard School began its journey as early as 1914 as efforts to consolidate one-room school houses into centralized schools gained ground.

According to retired teacher and Howard alumnus Ed Riley, Albert Hutson led the charge to combine Clay, Ervin, and Howard Township schools into one building. At that time, there were roughly school houses every two miles in the township. The need for students to fill the single-room schools was falling in favor of several students in one location. Hutson, the superintendent of the county schools, helped propel the merger forward.

“In February of 1914, they picked out the location (for Howard School),” Riley said. “They bought the initial three acres in April 1916. By the middle of May, they had let the contract for the construction of the school.”

In August of 1916, the cornerstone of the school was laid, and the doors were open to students on Sept. 7, 1917. The new building was dedicated on Oct. 19, 1917.

“By consolidating the schools, they came up with about 200 and some kids, which is what they roughly have there now in the elementary,” he said. “It was (originally) grades 1-12.”

It took two years for the school to see its first graduating class, as there were no upperclassmen in the school at the time it opened. Howard now serves Northwestern School Corporation as an elementary school. It housed school children in grades 1-12 until 1949 when Clay and Ervin schools merged to form Northwestern High School. 

Riley attended Howard, just as his parents and siblings did. As an adult, his daughter attended Howard, as well as his nephew.

“My parents went to Howard. They had gone to separate one-room schools, but when they consolidated, they were in the same grade. They ended up graduating in 1926 and got married in 1930. There are a lot of people that have similar situations in their families,” Riley said.

Having generations of family members attend Howard is not uncommon within the walls of the school. 

“It’s always been so family-oriented, I think. For a long time, the people that went there were, and most of the people still, their farmland is all around Howard. Generations of people have gone there. The community is passionate about Howard,” said longtime first-grade teacher Joi Stites.
Stites has taught for 38 years in the same classroom at the same grade level.

“It’s a small school. We only have two classrooms of each grade, so we know all of the children. The teachers keep up with them as they go through the grades,” she said. “We feel the responsibility of the children the whole way through, not just when they’re in our classroom. We know the parents, and then the siblings come. It’s very close-knit.”

The school children are gearing up for the Howard Elementary School Centennial Celebration that will take place on Sept. 24 from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. Principal Rhonda Lanie said great things are in store for the celebration day.

“We have a special ceremony that will begin at 3 p.m. where we’ve invited several guests to speak,” said Lanie. “There will be an ice cream social directly following the ceremony at about 3:30 p.m. We’ll have ice cream and cupcakes, and the choir will perform.”

The students of the school are creating projects to display at the celebration, and historical photographs will be hung around the building, depicting school life 100 years ago.

 “I think what makes it special for us is all the generations of people who have come through Howard. We have families who have four and five generations who’ve actually gone to school here and are still committed to being a Howard family,” Lanie said. “It’s unique and amazing when you think about other schools in our area. I think that’s really what set us apart from all the other schools around us. 

“There is a lot of passion and excitement about being a Howard kid and a Howard alum. It’s cool to see all of the people who have a story to tell about Howard. I’m excited about the ceremony and having the community invited out to the school. It will be a great day.”