Berkmar Cluster

Bethesda Elementary School, 110 Years of Education

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Established in 1905!


Bethesda Elementary School, situated on 17 acres along Bethesda School Road in Lawrenceville, enjoys a history steeped in tradition and pride. Since 1905, the school has played a vital role in the community for which it is named. The first Bethesda building was built next to Bethesda Methodist Church with land and materials donated by James Arthur Alford. Men of the community cut and hauled the timber to the sawmill and then built the school which opened July 9. The school consisted of one large room and a cloak room with shelves for the students’ lunch pails. Also present was a bell tower with a large bell, which was rung to signal area children the time for studies to begin. The school was heated by a pot-bellied stove. The wood was donated by area residents and chopped by the larger male students who brought the wood inside and took turns making the fires. Water was obtained from a spring, which is still present. All the children drank from the same bucket and dipper – which was at times a gourd.
In its early days, Bethesda School had one teacher for grades one through seven. The children attended school four months in the winter season. The school day lasted from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. If crops did not have to be planted or gathered, parents could pay the teacher so their children could attend a private term for a few more weeks.

By 1914 or 1915, two full-time teachers were employed, and the school term was four months in the winter and two months in the spring. A second classroom was added. Curriculum consisted of reading (from Elson’s Readers), arithmetic to square and cube roots, grammar, spelling, and geography.

The 1923 Gwinnett County Public School System History gives these facts about Bethesda:
Value: $350.00, 2 rooms, 1 cloakroom, insufficiently and improperly lighted, unpainted

Equipment: double homemade desks, insufficient amount of good blackboard, some maps, no charts, no globes, no library, no reference dictionary, some pictures

Organization: Two teachers, enrolled 48, attendance 45, seven grades, 26 week school year
Classrooms and teachers were added and a PTA was organized in 1930. In 1931, Bethesda consolidated with other area schools and relocated to the present site, again on land donated by the Alford family. The school was built by volunteer parent help under the supervision of Alvin Thompson. The State Board of Education donated $50 per classroom for the original building, which is still in use today. The completed school consisted of four classrooms for students in grades one through nine and four teachers. Rest rooms were outside, and coal-heated pot-bellied stoves were used to keep classrooms warm.

Additions were made to the original building in the late thirties. By 1941, grades one through eleven were housed in seven classrooms, and there was a gymnasium/auditorium. A cafeteria was located in the basement of the gymnasium. Courses included English, mathematics, social studies, music, spelling, home economics and vocational, commercial, and agricultural education.

During World War II and into the late 1940’s, the school continued to serve the community’s youth in grades one through eleven. The school developed an outstanding reputation for its boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, which won county , district and state championships.
From this one-room one-teacher schoolhouse, Bethesda has grown and changed along with the community it serves. Additions have been added throughout the years to accommodate the growing student population. Upper grades have been moved to other area middle and high schools, leaving Bethesda to serve grades kindergarten to fifth grade. The last high school class graduated in 1957. Bethesda Elementary is part of the Berkmar Cluster. Its students attend nearby Sweetwater Middle School and then Berkmar High School. Thus, the students gain stability and the security of long term relationships with the same friends.

Bethesda is proud to have several faculty and staff members who attended the school as students. In 1992, Bethesda welcomed several fourth-generation students.
Today, Bethesda is one of the largest schools in the county, based on square footage. The present facility encompasses more than 168,000 square feet and includes 60 classrooms, a cafeteria, a media center, four computer labs, an art room, a chorus room, a health education room, a math lab, a gymnasium, and an outdoor classroom. There are more than 1,000 students and 166 staff members. Throughout the history of the school, the cardinal has been the official mascot, and red and white have been the school’s colors.

Today there are more than 30 countries represented and more than 28 different languages spoken by our student population. As we progress into our second century of teaching and learning, Bethesda Elementary School will continue to serve the community with pride in its historic heritage and anticipation of greater achievements in the future.