For 100 years, Franklin Elementary has taught generations of Bakersfield children, and now the school is asking alumni to return the favor: The committee planning a centennial celebration Friday is requesting memorabilia, report cards, photos, etc., to help fill in the school's timeline, because while teachers were busy teaching history, no one, it seems, was recording it.
What is known -- thanks to The Californian's archives -- is that the school opened its doors to 28 pupils on Sept. 7, 1914. The first principal was Laura Elwood and the original building was at 18th and A streets, roughly where the current downtown campus is located, except that today the school faces Truxtun Avenue.
"How much (Bakersfield) has grown in the last 25 years is enormous," said third-grade teacher Kathy Kozlowski, who has taught at Franklin for a quarter of a century. "This existed 100 years in basically the same place. It's such an accomplishment."
Kozlowski has been poring over anything she can get her hands on to tell her more about the school. And while the record is a little fuzzy, she's certain about one thing.
"The pride in our school is one of the most enduring things," she said. "People are really proud that they went to Franklin."
The school's booster club is putting on a carnival to celebrate the centennial anniversary and encouraging alumni and former staff to bring old photos, certificates, diplomas, report cards, assignments and anything else that might be historically interesting. The carnival also will be an opportunity for those alumni and staff to reconnect and share stories about the school's history, particularly pre-1946, before the first school was destroyed, the period that interests Kozlowski most.
"I wish I could see what the classrooms were like back then," she said. "I'm dying to know what the inside looked like, the hallways and rooms."
Attorney Milt Younger, who attended Franklin in the late 1930s and early 1940s, might be able to fill in some blanks.
Born in 1931, Younger was student body president at Franklin in sixth grade before attending Emerson Junior High and graduating from Bakersfield High School. Younger looks back fondly at his experience at Franklin and the educators who encouraged him, particularly principal Caroline Harris, for whom the district named a school in 1960.
"In first grade, Caroline Harris saw me and said, 'You talk too much. You'd be a good lawyer,'" Younger recalled.
Harris also taught Younger a valuable lesson when he and a friend were working as school monitors in first grade. Their task was to clean school erasers, but that wasn't exactly what happened.
"We got in an eraser fight," Younger said. "Miss Harris walked in and paddled us, lightly. I've never forgotten it."
So what did he learn?
"That I was not above the law!" he said with a laugh. "Despite the fact that I was a smart kid, I still had to do what everyone else did. I think that was (Harris') point."
A more recent alumnus, Paige (Hill) Baschuk -- who, like Younger, served as student body president -- also remembers a teacher being pivotal in guiding her to her eventual career path. Now living in Washington, D.C., Baschuk, 28, works as a writer for a consulting firm.
"My second-grade teacher, (Jan) Siechert, was really encouraging with my writing," Baschuk said during a phone interview. "She really helped put me on the path, identifying where my strengths were."
Baschuk credits a strong community support group that volunteered at the school for her success and that of other students. She said that community is what makes Franklin so special.
"Franklin wouldn't be so successful without parents" volunteering, Baschuk said. "We're not a private school, so we have to try a little harder. We don't get the breaks that some of my friends who went to private school did. We didn't have fancy fundraisers or special computers. We cherished everything we received."
Current principal Carla Tafoya echoed Baschuk.
"Franklin has had, with community and staff, a really united group working toward student excellence," said Tafoya, who has been Franklin's principal for 10 years. "That tradition carried over the years."
A search of The Californian's archives provides some key information about the school's history. Though Kozlowski had heard that the original school -- a two-story brick building -- had burned down in 1946, no report of a fire was found. However, according to a front-page Californian article dated July 26, 1946, the school board condemned the building, calling it a fire trap and a high risk for collapse during an earthquake (a prescient analysis, coming as it did six years before the devastating 1952 earthquake that leveled much of downtown Bakersfield).
The school was closed for the 1946-47 term and pupils were transported to nearby William Penn Elementary, which was forced to schedule a double session to accommodate the influx. Meanwhile, a May 1947 Californian advertisement noted the old school would be demolished by wrecking ball and announced scrap items like plumbing and lumber would be sold.
The current campus, designed by Charles Biggar, C.B. Alford and W.J. Thomas, was opened to students on Sept. 8, 1947, at a cost of $268,000. It held 12 classrooms and a kindergarten room.
Many Franklin alumni now have Franklin students of their own. Kozlowski said many of her students' parents were her own students years ago. Some live in the same area they grew up in, but others choose to have their children attend their alma mater.
"Franklin has always done very well with test scores," Kozlowski said. "Parents want that for their children. It's a small school ... a lot of parents like that, that it's not huge."
Sometimes Kozlowski will see her former students at parent conferences or as chaperones for their children's field trips.
"It's different for (those) parents because they are now the adult," Kozlowski said of the parents who were once her students. "They still remember me from back in third grade. They want to go back into the teacher/child relationship."
So far, the carnival is the only planned celebration for Franklin's 100th anniversary, but that won't be the case for long if Kozlowski has her way.
"My hopes are to also get a brick plaza out front where people can get a brick engraved with their name and the years they attended or worked here, in front of the school," she said.
Both Kozlowski and Tafoya hope alumni and staff from all eras will come to celebrate the anniversary. Tafoya noted that there is so much to learn from the alumni and staff who came before.
"Alumni (should) come back (to) see their school and share their experiences with us and celebrate 100 years," Tafoya said. "Everyone is a part of that, of making this a special place in those 100 years."