When members of the Laurel High Class of 1971 started their freshman year, they attended what was the "new school," opened in 1965 to replace the original school building that is now the Phelps Center.
Since then, Laurel High has expanded to accommodate a new auditorium and a wing for its vocational programs. But on a 40th reunion tour of their alma mater Sept. 17, many '71 grads said not much had changed in the core building since the days they spent there.
The hallway floors are still speckled with brown, taupe and gray, and the tiled walls, with their alternating stripes of clay, tan and mahogany, are exactly how Curt Alling remembered them. Even the analog clocks, installed at intervals down the hall, looked familiar.
"There's a lot that's the same," said Alling, who traveled from Sacramento for the reunion.
As Principal Dwayne Jones, himself a graduate of Laurel's Class of 1981, led the group of about 30 alumni and their spouses through the building, memories from a time when "consumer science" courses were still "home economics," and "fashion and design" was just called "sewing," sprang from the walls.
Tom Bolton, of Glen Burnie, remembered a homeroom teacher "who drove a Jaguar one day, a motorcycle the next and a Cadillac the third."
Pamela Meyers Spano, of Valley Village, Calif., laughed about being scolded by her driver's ed teacher when she and a friend couldn't stop cracking up in the backseat of the car during a lesson.
Many alumni had fond memories of the "smokers' corner," a hard-fought privilege their class had won. Situated to the right of the main entrance, the picnic table-lined courtyard was the heart of the social scene. Students with a "B" average could get an honor card, which allowed them to leave campus for lunch and frequent the smokers' corner.
Evelyn Bigbee met her husband, Jeff Newbrough, in that courtyard. "I saw her standing outside," Newbrough said. "I looked at her and said, 'Wow.' " The couple has been married 34 years.
In the gym, alumni were transported back to the 1971 wrestling team's state championship glory and the hilarity of the school's tradition of student-faculty donkey basketball games, where the only hoops that counted were the ones made while sitting on a donkey's back. "Just making them walk forward was an accomplishment," Alling said.
Looking around at the blue and yellow bleachers and thick basketball hoop backboards, Bolton said the facility looked just as he had left it 40 years ago. "This really hasn't changed — about 10 layers below this polyurethane is where we stood," he said, his gaze trailing down to the polished floor.
Signs of change
But while the physical structure might not have changed, the times have, the alumni noted. There were no girls' sports teams at Laurel in those pre-title IX years. Students no longer get to participate in game days, a break in classes to attend a sporting event like basketball or track. The media center, now home to rows of computers, was simply called the library.
And signs explaining procedures for code red and code blue drills weren't taped to the walls in 1971.
The dress code, which used to ban female students from wearing pants, now requires all students to dress in white polos and khaki bottoms. A temporary break in the dress code, instated while the Class of 1971 were juniors, allowed a little more flexibility in dress. Skirts were replaced by jeans with long belts and tassels.
In those last two years, "we turned into hippies," said Margo DeLorenzo Braunstein, of Florida.
As Jones led the group through the vocational wing, which hadn't yet been built in 1971, alumni marveled at the school's new course offerings. Laurel students can now opt to take classes in cosmetology, nursing and auto mechanics, among others.
"Do you think they would do my hair here?" Spano wondered aloud, as she stood in the salon where cosmetology students practice styling hair on rows of mannequins lining the walls. Her hair is cropped short and has been dyed in pink, purple, orange, yellow and black stripes since she offered to dye her hair one color for every five books her niece finished as part of a school read-a-thon. Her hair now looks much different from the long locks she sported in high school, she said.
The vocational wing was named after the father of one of the tour's participants, Donna Dannels, of Rockville. G. Eugene Dannels taught woodshop at Laurel High from the mid-1950s until he retired in 1969. Dannels remembered her father dragging her and her brother to Board of Education meetings to advocate for technical classes that would help Laurel students develop more practical skills.
"He felt we were obligated to give kids a better education," Dannels said.
Sharon Nussbaum, co-chair of the reunion committee with Nancy Hayden, said she was impressed by the turnout for the 40th anniversary events. She said 86 people had signed up to attend the reunion dinner that night at the DoubleTree Hotel in Columbia.
"We don't see each other a lot, but it's like we haven't missed a beat in the meantime," John Stone, of Herndon, Va., said of seeing his old classmates again.
"This is good coming back," said Dale Bateman, of Tampa, Fla. "It's like coming home."