When students returned from summer break and walked into Batesburg-Leesville High School on Monday morning, they found themselves not just stepping into the future of what the 2019-2020 school year might hold. They found themselves transported into the past.
“The history of our town is very important to me,” said Sonya Bryant, entering her third year as the high school’s principal. “We recently renamed all of our hallways to represent the four streets where high schools sat in our community over the years.”
The centennial celebration at Batesburg-Leesville High has begun, and the 100th graduating class – and all of the 558 high-schoolers who came back to campus this week — will be surrounded by constant reminders of a century’s worth of local culture and changing times.
Prior to racial desegregation, African-American students in Leesville attended the Hampton School on South Lee Street and Twin-City High School on Maple Street in the Batesburg section of town. The original brick Batesburg-Leesville High School — built in 1920, once listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but torn down in August 2017 – stood on West Columbia Avenue. The present high school on Summerland Avenue was constructed in 1975.
“We’re going to add pictures of those high schools on the hallways to reflect our history,” Mrs. Bryant said. “My goal is to teach these students and help them love and honor their community.”
The sense of history is not lost on student leadership at Batesburg-Leesville High. In fact, at this school celebrating a century of resilience through arguably the most turbulent seasons in American history, it seems perfectly fitting that the student body president for this 100th graduating class is a tech-savvy young filmmaker with multicultural roots.
“What I love about this year is that we’re going to able to be look into the history of what’s gone on, but we’re going to be able to make some history ourselves,” said Shanez Padgett, whose parents both graduated from Batesburg-Leesville High. “It’s an amazing opportunity, and I don’t take it for granted.”
Aliyah Shealy, senior class president, also knows how special the next 10 months will be at Batesburg-Leesville High.
“We’re obviously a special class, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to be part of this historic year,” she said. “I’m so excited for what we have planned for this school year. We’ve always been a family since Day One, and to find out that we’re part of the 100th graduating class makes it even more special.”
Junior class president Hannah Leaphart, who was born just a little too late to share the distinction of being in the centennial class, is simply happy to be back among friends as school has started again.
“We’re just one big giant family,” Hannah said. “All the teachers care about us like we’re their own children, and we’re all just excited to be back for another year.”
Not too far down Summerland Avenue at Batesburg-Leesville Primary School, teachers and support staff welcomed 610 students back to class Monday. Across town, another 483 students began the year at Batesburg-Leesville Elementary, and across the yard at Batesburg-Leesville Middle School, the homestretch to high school began for 460 students.
All over Lexington District Three, as school buses rolled through Monday’s early morning fog, anticipation hung just as heavily as the humidity in the sticky pre-dawn air.
“I could not sleep last night – and I’m a person who goes to sleep right away,” Mrs. Bryant said. “This is better than the night before Christmas. I’ve been waiting all summer for my babies to get back.”
Like all of her fellow educators, this principal leading Batesburg-Leesville High School’s 100th graduating class into the history books, amid all the pomp and ceremony, has one goal in mind: educating those young people whose futures rest in their capable hands.
“I tell my teachers that we need highly engaging experiences in the classroom, and we need to build strong relationships,” Mrs. Bryant said. “I think if we do those two things, we will be fine.”
Story by Tony Baughman / Posted August 26, 2019