Fairmont history: When East met West and other cool facts

Photo illustration by Sam Barton

Photo illustration by Sam Barton

By Rachel Sheidler, Staff Writer

Imagine a Fairmont where students only have four minutes between classes instead of six, and the girls never wear jeans. Or try to picture a Fairmont High School without South Unit or any freshmen.

It’s hard to fathom, but that’s what the school was like back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, according to Fairmont Athletic Secretary Jonnie Shoemacher, a 1969 graduate of Fairmont West.

But to truly understand the school’s history, one must go back to 1902.

From four rooms to two high schools

In 1902, classes for high school students were held in the G.A.R. Hall on Dorothy Lane at the corner of Wilmington Pike. By the fall of 1906, a four-room high school was constructed at the northwest corner of Far Hills Avenue and Dorothy Lane. In 1922, an increasing student population led to the construction of a larger version of the four-room high school, this one on the northeast corner of Far Hills and Dorothy Lane.

All three of these buildings have since been demolished, but the “new” high school building constructed in 1929 on Far Hills Avenue at the corner of Storms Road is still standing today. That building, the D.L. Barnes Building, served as the area’s high school until 1957, when it was converted into Barnes Junior High School. Today, it is home to the Kettering Board of Education and many other educational programs.

In 1957, a new Fairmont High School was built on Shroyer Road at the site of the current high school. The school’s mascot was a Dragon.

However, the baby boom that followed the end of World War II meant that Fairmont High School was bursting at the seams by the early 1960s. The solution was to open a second high school, named Fairmont East, in the fall of 1963. (The building that housed Fairmont East High School is now Kettering Middle School.)

Fairmont East adopted the Falcon as its mascot, while the original Fairmont High School became Fairmont West and retained the Dragon mascot.

When enrollment started to decline in the early 1980s, Fairmont East and West combined again in 1983 to form today’s Kettering Fairmont High School. The schools combined their mascots (a Dragon and a Falcon) and the Firebirds were born.

‘So many differences …’

Shoemacher started her high school career a few years after the high school split into two. Comparing Fairmont West to Fairmont now, she realizes that “there are so many differences, it isn’t even funny.”

For example, while a Fairmont student today may spend the whole school day without setting foot outside, that wasn’t always the case. “The units were all separated,” Shoemacher said. “There were no interior connectors, so you had to go outside to get to various buildings.”

Assistant Activities Coordinator Roger Bauser, a 1964 Fairmont grad, remembers that as well. “You can now have the best of both worlds because on those beautiful days in the fall and spring, students have the option to walk outside as well,” he said. Construction to enclose the units wasn’t completed until 1995.

Bauser also describes the early Fairmont High School as “a school within a school. If you were assigned to East Unit, your classes were in East Unit and you stayed there throughout the day,” he said. “You really got to know all the people in that particular building.”

Although Fairmont has been on the same land since 1957, the school has dramatically expanded over time.  Bauser says he can recall a time when there was no Recital Hall, Commons, Performing Arts Center or Career Tech Center.  Shoemacher added that when she was in school, there was no South Unit and freshmen weren’t a part of the high school.

Dress codes to detentions

Aside from the huge changes in the building, behaviors and attitudes have changed over the years as well.

“I never came to school in anything but a skirt or dress. Girls couldn’t wear pants, ever,” Shoemacher said. “Language was a lot stricter and detentions were more freely given.”

Shoemacher added that the school isn’t quite as clean as it used to be, and changes in punishment might be to blame. “If somebody got in trouble, you had to either scrub the walls in the halls or scrape gum off tables,” she said. “The punishments were different.”

Academics, outreach and sports

Bauser also noted that the organization and curriculum is “so much more sophisticated and complicated than it ever was when I was in school.”

In fact, to fit the rapidly changing curriculum for high school students, Fairmont went from having six 55-minute periods to seven 50-minute periods since Bauser was in school. “It was a response to increased graduation requirements. Students needed a bit more flexibility in their schedule,” Bauser said.

Shoemacher said that when she was a high school student, there wasn’t a lot of variety in classes. “You basically had the option of college prep classes or just making it through high school,” she said. Students didn’t have access to college courses, and the elective options were limited.

Bauser also marvels at the growth of opportunities to reach out to the community. “Things like Spirit Chain, adopting families at Christmas time, the major food drive, and the blood drive are opportunities that weren’t presented to teenagers back then,” he said. “Our students have consistently responded to those needs.”

In addition to the increase in academic and volunteering opportunities, Shoemacher noted that today’s girls have far more opportunities to play scholastic sports. The sports change was driven by Title IX, a 1972 law that requires gender equity for boys and girls in educational programs that receive federal funding.

An avid athlete in high school, Shoemacher remembers when they wouldn’t even pull the bleachers out for girls’ basketball games. “They would only set up a few chairs in case some parents came, but sometimes parents didn’t even come to the game,” she said. “You played for the love of the game, not for an audience.”

Shoemacher says the biggest change she sees in the school is the effects of technology. “Teenagers today don’t pay as much attention now as teenagers did in the past about what is going on in our country. Part of it is dealing with being bombarded by media and technology,” she said. “When I was in high school, you had to be a bit more active in your research, which I think is a good thing. I think getting all the technology constantly now just teaches people to react and not to research. You can’t always rely on the Internet.”

With all the differences over generations, however, Shoemacher says one factor has stayed the same.  “Kids are kids.  We are so fortunate that we have great kids; we always have.”

Bauser said he thinks the teachers at Fairmont are also a huge asset to the community. “I would hold Fairmont’s staff up against any staff in the state. Kettering is a great place to raise a family and send your kids to school,” he said. “I sometimes wonder why people would want to move away.”