In 1962, Frank Porter Graham Elementary School opened with 12 teachers for 240 students, all African-American. Fifty years later, FPG represents students from more than 30 countries and countless backgrounds.
In celebration of the school’s 50th anniversary, students, staff and their families gathered Thursday night to reflect on FPG’s history. And as the school prepares to transition to a dual-language magnet program in the fall, attendees were focused equally on the future.
“While many of our teachers and our students will be transferring to other schools in the district next year, we know that they have a firm foundation of teaching and learning at FPG,” said Principal Rita Bongarten, who will retire at the end of the school year.
“And we recognize that students who will be staying at FPG in the dual language magnet program will have a wonderful opportunity to grow and learn in two languages.”
The event, which started with a picnic, performances and activities around school grounds, included a series of speeches honoring Bongarten. A slideshow in the cafeteria and speeches in the gymnasium gave FPG families the chance to learn more about the school’s history.
Named for educator and UNC president Frank Porter Graham, the school originally taught students in grades one through eight. FPG experienced major demographic changes during the integration of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in the mid-1960s, and has since developed a high degree of racial diversity, 50 percent of its students belonging to racial minorities.
With 28 percent of the student body being Latino, FPG is one of two CHCCS schools to offer a Spanish-English dual language program, along with Mary Scroggs Elementary. This fall, the school will become the district’s first magnet school, allowing students to spend the majority of their class time speaking in Spanish.
In a speech during Thursday’s event, parent Omar Zinn said diversity is what originally drew his family to FPG. His children will be transferring away following the transition to a magnet, and Zinn said he will miss FPG’s multiculturalism.
“I’ll miss the beautiful, amazing diversity — all the colors of the rainbow,” he said. “You cannot find a school like this unless you go to a big city. This is the kind of school that I wanted my kids to go to because of that.”
Another speaker who said she’d miss FPG was former teacher Vickie Lineberry, who had spent 30 years teaching at the school.
“There have been 50 years of FPG history, and I’m proud to say 30 of those years have been mine, and I can claim knowing these people for a long time,” Lineberry said to a packed gymnasium.
She said one of the highlights of her career came when former UNC-system president William Friday
’s grandchildren joined her class. Friday, who would read to his grandchildren’s class and enjoyed being called ‘grandpa’ by all the students, pulled Lineberry aside on one memorable day.
“One day as he left,” Lineberry said, “he put his hand on my shoulder, and he said, ‘Mrs. Lineberry, I have something to say to you.’ He said, ‘Dr. Frank Porter Graham would be so proud of the excellence in education that’s going on at FPG.’ He said, ‘it is amazing, and I’m glad that my babies are a part of this.”
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