School teacher Sue Conaway starts off back-to-school night each year by showing the parents her elementary school diploma, which came from the same school where she now teaches.
“It always surprises them,” Conaway said.
The second-grade teacher completed fifth- and sixth-grade at Severna Park Elementary in 1968 and 1969. Conaway has spent 32 years teaching in the Anne Arundel County School system—17 of them at Severna Park Elementary.
This school year is a special one for Severna Park and Conaway as they celebrate its 75th anniversary in the building and 160th year on the property. This year's graduating fifth-grade class will be the school’s 160th.
“One thing I remember was that we graduated out in the front area where the flagpole is now. So all the students and parents sat out there on the road on Riggs Avenue. We had graduation out there, which was kind of unusual. I guess it shows how small it was then. You could never do that now.”
Conaway said the school is obviously different now than it was in 1968, since the entire building has been renovated. She said she remembers the ramp out in front of the building, but the school’s atrium wasn’t there at all.
“The gym, cafeteria and media center are all new,” Conaway said. “The library was no bigger than a classroom back then.”
When it came to being a teacher, Conaway said it was an easy career choice. Her father was a former principal at Severna Park Junior High and her grandparents were also teachers.
She grew up in Severna Forest and said the job at Severna Park Elementary sort of happened inadvertently.
“It was kind of accidental,” she said. “My boss at the other school asked if anyone wanted to go to Severna Park Elementary to fill a spot, and everyone kind of looked at me because they knew I lived down the street—so I raised my hand.”
Conaway has two children, who are grown now, but attended . A Towson University graduate, Conaway has lived in the area her entire life, and said she most enjoys the small-town feel of everything.
“I like the close-knit neighborhood,” Conaway said. “And it is a small school. I have taught at large schools in the county and having a small school community is something I find appealing.”
Over the years, Conaway said the town has definitely grown, but without losing the small-town aspects. She said she has taught children whose parents she went to school with, and worked with her brother’s teacher.
“It’s fun for me because I have been here long enough, so I can see whole families go through,” she said. “Like knowing the babies when they are born and then seeing them go through elementary school. That has happened three times now. So families that have been here years and years and their children go through us. I like that.”
Conaway said one of the biggest differences between education now and in the 1960s is how much children can do now. Before they were often given a textbook and a work sheet—now kids learn more interactively.
While not all of Conaway’s second-graders grasp the complete significance of the school’s anniversary, she says it is important for them to learn what they can.
“For the kids, it is kind of nice for them to see the old pictures,” she said. “They don’t really realize the sense of history in this area. So we are trying to educate them with that a little bit by showing them pictures and celebrating the anniversary.”