Students leave Stratton Elementary for the last time

Published: May. 25, 2023 at 4:24 PM EDT
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BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) - Students at Stratton Elementary walked out of the school’s location on Fayette Street for the very last time on Thursday. While students will be moving into a new school next door next year, they leave behind a building with a storied history.

Lawyers, doctors, and legends have walked those halls, including Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter Bill Withers.

When the first students arrived at the building in 1939, there were more than 500 students. An African-American school prior to integration, it would go through a number of transitions over the next decades, from high school junior high to elementary school.

On July 21, 2023, the school will be demolished more than 80 years after it first opened.

“It’s bittersweet for all my faculty and parents alike,” said Principal Kristi Clay. “We had several parents videoing their children coming in this morning for the last time so it’s very emotional.”

For school volunteer Doris Martin, the school holds a special significance. She graduated from the school in 1957, when it was a high school.

Looking back, she remembers feeling intimidated by its grandeur. “I was frightened for a couple months until I got my footing, but after that it was just a wonderful place to be.”

As a volunteer, she and the teacher she works with try to instill in children the same lessons they were taught - to respect yourself and others, but also “just to try. The only thing you can’t do is to be invisible and fly. Everything else is possible,” she said.

It was a message that has resonated with students over the years. In addition to educating Withers, the hit singer and songwriter, the school won four state championships in Football.

As Principal Clay gets ready to start a new year in a new school, she said she will not forget the groundwork laid by those before her. “We’re happy for our students and for what’s to come, but we want to honor the traditions of those who came before us.”

Clay said it is also important to point out there will be a tribute center for Stratton set up at the new school. Additionally, there will also be an auction held in June for items at this school at a date to be determined.

An open house for the new school will likely be set sometime close to the end of Summer.