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For Tom Sterling, Oviedo High School’s centennial celebrates a lineage that began with his mother riding to the school as a student in a goat-drawn carriage in 1932 and continues with him as an auto shop teacher and his daughters as students.
In the early morning hours of Aug. 10, draped in banners of orange and black, Oviedo High School students clanged Seminole County’s ceremonial bell, not just to ring in the new school year, but to mark a century of learning.
This was a special moment for Sterling as it marked a milestone for a school that three generations of his family attended.
“My mom went to Oviedo High School. I went to Oviedo High School. My older sister did and then my two daughters went to Oviedo High School,” Sterling said.
Despite the 7 a.m. call, hundreds of students, the school’s sports teams, teachers and student organizations were there to celebrate in full force, including a first-ever morning pep rally. Some of the city’s most senior alums, some going all the way back to the class of 1965, were in attendance.
Arthur Evans was the longest standing alumni of the school system at the bell ringing event. Evans attended T. W. Lawton Elementary School, a one-room schoolhouse first constructed in 1876, according to the Oviedo Historical Society.
In 1922, Seminole County built a four-room brick schoolhouse and the white students attending Lawton Elementary moved to that school. By that time, the original school was called Oviedo Elementary School and later became Jackson Heights Middle School, named after a prominent Black homesteader named Henry Jackson, according to the book Oviedo, Biography of a Town. After the Civil Rights Act passed, the first desegregated class in Oviedo graduated in 1966.
Evans graduated in 1965 with about 30 classmates – the largest class to graduate from the school at that point, he said.
During the 1960s, Evans’ father, John W. Evans, was chairman of the Seminole County School Board and, according to Oviedo, Biography of a Town, he had a large role in the decision to build a new school in the city. John Evans Elementary School was named after him.
Evans is the president of Nelson & Company Inc., which was founded in 1886 in Oviedo. Its name brandishes the landmark water tower in Oviedo’s historic downtown. He said having all of the grades together served as a benefit.
“I think the teachers that we had gave us a really good education, and it was nice that all the students [were together]. As we got older we took care of the younger kids,” Evans said.
A calling found
An alumnus who has been teaching for the last 27 years, Sterling found his calling in an OHS auto shop class. This led to a 20-year career in the Air Force as an aircraft mechanic. He wound up back at OHS as a teacher after his service.
Sterling, class of ‘77, credits the OHS classes he took for his entire education and career.
“When I came [to OHS] they had wood shop, electronics, carpet shop, small engines, and automotive. It was probably the only thing that kept me in school,” Sterling said.
For OHS junior Amara Lawn, the Pop Safari club is what provided her a haven from standard academia, and a place to discuss pop culture interests.
“I had a really fun club with my English teacher, his name was Mr. Lander. The [discussions were] really exciting. He even had a club topic that was something I recognized. That was fun,” Lawn said.
OHS Assistant Principal Rachel Menta is excited about what this school year has in store, including the new and improved cafeteria.
The “commons” has been upgraded to look a little more like what you would find in a university dining hall with five restaurants. As a show of appreciation, the students made sure to thank the staff.
“The students were going out of their way to thank the cafeteria workers, for serving them their food which, for teenagers, is like a big deal,” Menta said.
Along with appreciating the lunch staff, Menta noted that the students seemed happy to return to in-person learning after two years of mixed-experience learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She says the students are taking advantage of this return by joining clubs, organizations and athletics.
“Last year, when a majority of [the students]came back, we noticed that they liked being in school… and they’ll tell you that’s because they like to participate in all the things we offer,” Menta said.
For students like Lawn, that means getting back into clubs and classes. Some of those classes come with the opportunity to help out the school.
“I’m currently in Culinary 3. And with that comes the responsibility of running the Lion’s Den Cafe. And so I’ll be there, and I feel like that’s gonna be fun.”
As Sterling, Menta, Lawn, and the rest of the students and staff look to the school year ahead, Sterling echoed the joys of seeing students who are happy to walk the halls once more.
“Everybody’s in good spirits and I think they’re happy to be back. You know, I would say 90% of kids are quite happy to be back,” Sterling said. “They make the school and that makes it easy to teach and if you get good kids, good students who are ready to learn, that job is a piece of cake.”