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50 Years of Town&Gown: Education

by on July 27, 2015 1:32 PM

Fifty years ago, most State College children walked to school, girls wore dresses every day, and pregnant teachers went on leave as soon as their baby bumps showed. Principals could paddle misbehaving students, schools had just eliminated Bible readings from morning exercises, and the school district bought its first computer, a huge mainframe used to process report cards and teach Fortran.

Today, the dress code is relaxed, even kindergarteners work on computers and iPads, surveillance cameras and security are prominent, and pregnant teachers and students can attend class. Families can choose among public, charter, private, and online schools, as well as home schooling. After high school graduation, most local young adults continue on to college or trade or business school. The college of choice for many local students is Penn State, which has doubled its enrollment and expanded both its physical campus and degree programs over the past half century.

50 years of State College schools
The State College Area School District was born in 1964. The Pennsylvania Reorganization Act of 1963 had required that school districts consolidate so each would have more students and the state’s 2,189 districts would be reduced to about 500. Locally, the five individual township school boards plus the borough board became one after a year “fraught with innumerable roadblocks,” according to the county’s superintendent of schools at the time, T. Elwood Sones. “Provincialism was rampant, friendships were broken, neighbors were no longer neighborly, and families were divided in opinion.”

Meanwhile, the end of the post-World War II baby boom was still causing record enrollments, the aging Frazier Street School had closed, and new students often were assigned to whichever school had room, even if it was on the other side of town. Corl Street, Easterly Parkway, Houserville, Matternville, and Panorama elementary schools plus the high school’s
North building had all opened in the 1950s. Construction continued in the 1960s with Radio Park and Park Forest elementaries, along with the high school’s South building.

New technology began arriving in the schools, starting with loaner calculators when those were expensive purchases. In the 1970s, school librarians became instructional media specialists whose resources included microfilm, cassettes, record albums, filmstrips, and videotapes. Cable TV was installed in all State College schools in 1978. By 1981, the district had developed an overall instructional computing plan for all grade levels.

In 1974, the district developed the Alternative Program (now the Delta Program) as a flexible alternative for secondary students who wanted more responsibility for their own learning. In 1976, due to growing numbers of non-English- speaking students, the district began its English as a Second Language program. Countless new initiatives became operational over the years, from learning-enrichment classes to adult-education opportunities to the high school’s LifeLink special- education program.

District enrollment peaked at more than 7,300 students in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Through 2022, the district expects total enrollment to remain about 6,900 students, so building plans focus on renovation and replacement rather than new capacity. Construction has begun on the long-awaited high school project, which will concentrate academic
classes and a new career and technical center in the South building. Use of the North building’s natatorium and gymnasium will continue, with a new wing built to house the Delta Program. Part of the North building will be demolished to improve stormwater management and add athletic fields.

Growth on campus
For more than 150 years, Penn State has been a major educational influence in Centre County, and its local presence has grown tremendously over the years. In 1965, about 20,800 students were enrolled at the local campus; today, that number has more than doubled to 46,606.

Fifty years ago, the university already had received widespread recognition for excellent programs in a variety of fields. Still, the 1960s were a decade of growth and evolution in Penn State fields of study. For example, traditional liberal arts programs such as foreign languages, history, and philosophy were joined by new programs in fields such as linguistics, American studies, and interdisciplinary studies of non- Western civilizations. Other new programs included astronomy, computer science, medical technology, and business statistics. In the early 1960s, the College of Mineral Industries became the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences to more obviously encompass such growing departments as meteorology and geography.

One major change was the formation in 1966 of the College of Human Development, based on the old College of Home Economics plus a broad mandate for human-services programs. The college’s new fields of study included nursing, law enforcement and corrections, and health planning and administration.

In 1965, the university’s outreach across the state broadened when WPSX-TV went on the air. In 1969, the College of Health and Physical Education became the College of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation as the popularity of its recreation and parks curricula grew. (Two decades later, Human Development merged with Health, Physical Education, and Recreation to form the College of Health and Human Development.)

As more young Americans attended college in the 1960s and 1970s, construction boomed on campuses across the country, including Penn State. New buildings at University Park included those for the physical sciences (Davey Laboratory), Earth sciences (Deike), life sciences (Althouse Laboratory), animal industries (Henning), graduate school (Kern), and psychology (Moore). Other new buildings included McCoy Natatorium, Eisenhower Auditorium, East Halls, and the Museum of Art.

Construction continued to move farther from central campus as enrollment grew and new programs were added. In 1997, Penn State merged with Dickinson Law School, and Penn State Law at University Park gained a permanent home. in 2008 when the Lewis Katz Building opened north of Park Avenue. In 1998, the university established the School of Information Sciences and Technology to extend education beyond classic computer science and prepare students to meet challenges in the use of computers and networked systems for applications from medicine to homeland security to business. The state-of- the-art IST building, spanning North Atherton Street, opened in 2004, and two years later the school became a college.

In 1998, Penn State became one of the first major accredited universities to offer online education when it launched its World Campus. The university’s online degree and certificate programs have attracted students from all 50 states, more than 60 countries, and all seven continents, and the programs continue to grow. Last year, World Campus enrollment hit 10,800 students. This year alone, the World Campus has begun offering new degree programs in accounting, special education, and data analytics, and the first online master’s degrees in nursing were awarded.

Additional options
Attorney Paul Mazza founded South Hills School of Business in 1970 at the suggestion of his assistant, Eva Burke, who told him State College needed a secretarial school as an alternative opportunity for high school graduates who didn’t want to go to college. Under the direction of Burke, the school held its first classes in 1971 at the South Hills Office Centre on South Allen Street. Eleven students enrolled in the stenographic-secretarial program.

From the beginning, Mazza’s wife, Maralyn, handled responsibilities from admissions to student aid to public relations. She became
director in 1980 and continues as the school’s president today. The Mazzas’ son, Paul Mazza III, is vice president.

To accommodate growing enrollment, South Hills moved to the newly vacant Boalsburg Elementary School in 1982 and then to its current building on Waupelani Drive in 1989. The number of degree programs also grew and evolved over more than four decades to meet the needs of area employers. Today, South Hills School of Business & Technology offers 11 associate-degree programs in business, technology, graphic design, health care, and criminal justice, with an average enrollment of about 500 students at campuses in State College, Altoona, and Lewistown.

The Centre County Vocational-Technical School (CCVTS) opened in 1969 to teach vocational skills to high school students from State College, Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, and Penns Valley school districts. Students could choose among 22 programs, from auto mechanics to cosmetology to welding.

Although State College withdrew from the vo-tech school in 1991 and developed its own Career & Technical Center, CCVTS continued to grow, and in 1998 it became the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science & Technology (CPI), with the new name reflecting technical advances in many occupations. Today, CPI offers more than 18 high school programs and 60 in-house adult and continuing programs
as well as more than 350 online courses. CPI opened its 35,000-square-foot transportation- training center in 2013 and is planning a health-sciences building that will facilitate the development of new health-care technician programs. Phase III of the campus expansion involves a training building for hospitality and tourism and an environmental-sciences building for a planned program in emerging energy and infrastructure.

Catholic education has been present in Centre County since 1890 through St. John the Evangelist Catholic School in Bellefonte. In State College, Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church opened its elementary school in 1963 and expanded to include middle school in the mid-1990s. After several years of campaigning by local parents, St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy opened for ninth- and 10th-graders in 2011 in the former Boalsburg Elementary building. The school added 11th grade in 2012 and 12th in 2013, graduating its first senior class in 2014. Last year, 118 students attended St. Joseph’s, and the high school opened its new gymnasium, the Robert and Alice Thomas Student Life Center.

The State College Friends School opened in fall 1980, with 12 students in kindergarten through third grade attending class in the basement of the Friends Meetinghouse. In 1988, the growing school leased four additional classrooms at University Baptist and Brethren Church. Ten years later, the Friends School moved into its new facility on University Drive. Programs now include about 120 students in kindergarten through eighth grade at the main school plus prekindergarten at the Friends Meetinghouse annex.

Bob and Dannah Gresh founded Grace Prep High School in 2004 as a faith-based school with a culture of creativity, critical thinking, leadership, and problem-solving. The school currently has 65 students in grades 9 through 12. Another faith-based private school in State College is Nittany Christian School for kindergarten through eighth grade.

In 1997, when Pennsylvania passed legislation authorizing charter schools, State College parents and educators immediately jumped at the opportunity to offer independent, nonprofit public schools with funding partially provided through school districts. The private Nittany Valley Academy applied to become the Nittany Valley Charter School, and its charter was approved in 1998, based on a mission of individualized instruction in kindergarten through eighth grade. At the same time, the new Centre Learning Community Charter School was approved for grades 5 through 8. In 1999, Wonderland became the next local charter school when Wonderland Preschool &
Daycare received a charter for kindergarten. The school now serves children through fifth grade. In 2005, Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania became the fourth State College charter school, focusing on foreign languages and global cultures.

By the 2013-14 school year, more than 128,000 Pennsylvania students were enrolled in charter schools, including more than 500 in State College’s four brick-and-mortar schools. In addition, about 30 State College Area School District students were enrolled in Pennsylvania cyber charter schools, which conduct classes online for pupils across the state.

From charter schools to online education to expansion on Penn State’s campus, educational options continue to grow across Centre County — for elementary school children, for secondary and college students, and for lifelong learning.



Tracey M. Dooms is a freelance writer in State College and a contributor to Town&Gown.
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