Wednesday, July 17, 2019

1969 and the Two Apollos

"Buzz" Aldrin salutes the American Flag on the lunar surface. Credits: NASA
The summer of 1969 was an exciting time for the United States. On July 21, 1969, mankind “took one giant leap” as Neil Armstrong took “one small step” on the moon making history of man walking on the moon for the first time marking the success of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission. This year not only marks the fiftieth anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission, but it also marks the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo Elementary School.

It was also during this summer that the Bossier Parish School Board was nearing completion of a new and innovative elementary school. Inspired by the recent accomplishment of Apollo 11 the Bossier Parish School Board voted, on August 7, 1969, to name this new elementary school Apollo. “In making the motion to name the school Apollo, J. Murray Durham pointed out that ‘the school was being completed at the same time the astronauts landed on the moon’ and is a ‘progressive form of school.’”

What made Apollo different was its open-space concept making the classroom areas free of interior walls and its unique non-graded continuous progress curriculum. Emmett Cope collaborated with the University of Tennessee and Dr. John Gilliland to design and implement this new curriculum at Apollo Elementary, which was considered an educational innovation.

According to Mary Liberto, a former principal of Apollo (1976-1981), “the non-graded program mandated that each student be placed in a group, which would best fit his/her needs for instruction. Therefore, maximum and substantial progress would be evident as a student progressed.” Mary Liberto was also one of five Bossier Parish teachers chosen to study the non-graded programs throughout the nation and assisted in planning and writing the primary curriculum for Bossier Parish.
There were only two bells to ring - one in the morning to signal the start of school and one in the afternoon to dismiss the students for the day.

Apollo Elementary was designed by local architect Thomas R. Merideth and was 56,000 square feet, air-conditioned, and carpeted (to reduce the level of noise) with the capacity to accommodate 720 students and was constructed at the cost of $756,000. It was 2-stories with the first-floor featuring two major open teaching areas and special interest rooms separated by a resource center ten times the size of a conventional classroom. At the end of each teaching-research section was an outdoor learning patio. Also, on the first floor are the cafeteria and administration offices. The cafeteria doubled as an auditorium by closing off the serving area and having a platform at one end. On the second floor was a little theater-assembly room that was carpeted and had risers on three sides for seating.

A strike of construction workers slowed down the completion of the building delaying its opening until November 1, 1969. Until then, students attended class at Airline High School. None-the-less there were 567 students registered to attend Apollo in its opening year.

Finally, on January 27, 1970, Apollo was dedicated to progress, innovation, and achievement during its dedication ceremony. While the administration had hoped to have the Apollo 11 crew in attendance for the dedication, they were pleased to have NASA Astronaut, Dr. Donald Lee Holmquest give the dedication speech. Dr. Holmquest brought a laugh when describing his difficulties in getting a plane from Houston to Shreveport stating, “I started trying to get here at 6 am, but because of the weather, the plane just took off just a little while ago. We are lucky to be here at all. Actually, it is more difficult to get to Shreveport than to get to the moon. It’s amazing that we can launch rockets in weather when we can’t get the airplane off the ground.” Other speakers were J. Murray Durham, Jr. and Board President and Superintendent Emmett Cope.
Artist's rendering of Apollo Elementary's Observatorium
Bossier Parish Schools Resource Center Collection: 2005.039.001

In 1971, Apollo was named the “School of the month” by Nations Schools magazine, selected by a committee representing the Council of Educational Facility Planners, receiving particular praise for the observatorium, a raised platform at the rear of the teaching area which permits close observation of individuals or groups of students through one-way glass. It is equipped with a television system, including close-up lenses, with the capability of monitoring all instructional stations in addition to the work of individual students. The school’s TV system is primarily used to train instructors in updated team-teaching techniques and to create in-service teaching tapes for use throughout the district. The observatorium was also used by counselors and specialists to observe behavioral disorders in specific students and then follow-up with a study on the effectiveness of remedial techniques applied.

On October 26, 1973, The Shreveport Times published, Bossier Parish received national recognition for its continuous progress program through several publications. The Department of Health, Education and Welfare also developed a film entitled ‘The School Without Failure,’ on the pilot program at Apollo Elementary School in Bossier City for nationwide distribution.”

To learn more about Apollo or other Bossier Parish Schools, visit the Bossier Parish Libraries History Center at 2206 Beckett Street, Bossier City.

By: Amy Robertson

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