Oakland Mills Middle celebrates 40 years

A lot of things have happened in the last 40 years — the fall of the Berlin Wall, the advent of the Internet and the first black president, to name a few. And Oakland Mills Middle School in Columbia has been there for all of it.

Hundreds gathered at Oakland Mills Friday night to celebrate the school's 40th anniversary; the crowd included community members, local dignitaries and students — past, present and future.

Addressing the sea of red (the PTA purchased commemorative T-shirts in the school's colors for the celebration), Board of Education members commented on the school's history and its accomplishments.

"This is a great place to grow up, and a wonderful place for your children to receive an education," said Board of Education member Ellen Giles. "And (in) another 40 years (it) can only get better."

The success of Oakland Mills, first opened in 1972, is a testament to the collaborative effort of the school and the community, board member Janet Siddiqui said.

"It's students, parents and staff working together to make this one of the best schools there is," she said.

Oakland Mills Principal Shiney John agreed.

"The spirit of Oakland Mills lies in the students that grace our classrooms, the staff that commits to teaching, the parents and the community that cradle our children," she said. "You fuel our passion for teaching and learning every day."

The celebration, complete with games, cake and booths from various school organizations, the Howard County Public Library System and the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, also was attended by many who probably know the school the best: the students.

Tekye Evans, a seventh-grader, listed the reasons he's proud to be a student at Oakland Mills: the programs that make the school a "role model" to others in the county, the teachers and the clubs.

"There's so much more I'm proud of, but it would take too long to tell you everything," he said.

Maggie Attridge, 12, said attending the school had been fun, exciting and educational for her. Countless students have passed through Oakland Mills' doors in the last four decades, and the celebration was a special one for Maggie, she said, because she was celebrating with her parents, who attended the school in the 1980s.

"I love it here," said the seventh-grader, who plays clarinet in the band. "And it's cool, I guess, some of the teachers had my parents in class."

Maggie's parents, Laura and Andy Attridge, attended Oakland Mills from 1980-1983, and Maggie's younger brother, Sean, a third-grader at Thunder Hill Elementary School, will attend Oakland Mills as well.

"We were very happy to send (Maggie) here," Laura Attridge said. "We had a great education here. … The school has changed, the layout is a little different (the school underwent renovations in the 1990s to construct walls around the open-pod layout), but there's the same community spirit that we had in the 80s."

George Clifford, Oakland Mills' sixth-grade earth science teacher, has been at the school since 1980, and has seen three generations of students sit in his classroom.

"It gives you a powerful sense of community," he said. "You're making a difference for the families who move here. … Oakland Mills is kind of a gateway for Howard County, and many who move here choose to stay."

Oakland Mills is not a cookie-cutter school, Clifford said. Last year, the student population was about 28 percent white, 21 percent Hispanic, and 38 percent black, and the most dramatic change he has seen, Cliffard said, is the growing diversity of his students.

"It presents its own challenges and its own blessings," he said. "Some of the tools have changed, too, with the computers and the Smart Boards, but it's still teaching. … It's been a blink of an eye, from my first year till now."

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