Many Septembers ago, my schoolmates and I underwent a great transition, matriculating from Enon Elementary School (with 420 kids in grades 1 – 7) to Chester Intermediate – with nearly that number in the 8th grade alone.
This transition came at a time when we were all going through quite a few other changes – including, in my case, the dermatological. Suddenly, I had to adjust to changing classes and dealing with five different teachers. Academically, I faced a drastic reappraisal of how smart I thought I was – and how hard I’d have to work for the next five years. In an entirely new social scene, I found that I’d suddenly been transformed from a nice, normal kid into a nerd.
Being from Enon, I faced an additional challenge. Chester kids, who far outnumbered us, referred to Enon as “the Swamp.” Except for a few top athletes and exceptionally cute girls, we “Swamp Rats” had to prove ourselves worthy of acceptance into this new, adolescent society.
Having survived my teen years, I look back on Chester Intermediate with affection. Like many others, I was outraged when – as a result of chronic poor planning – the School Board and Board of Supervisors abolished the old school to buy a brief reprieve from the inexorable overcrowding of Thomas Dale.
But it amazes me that, almost five decades on, “the Swamp” continues to be treated as a backwater by politicians living west of I-95.
A case in point: The perennial refusal of the School Board and the Supervisors to build a high school in Enon.
To be sure, Chesterfield’s powers-that-be have long favored the wealthier suburbs north of Hull Street Road in allocating educational resources. When Thomas Dale represented Chesterfield’s greatest over-crowding challenge (and at least one northern high school was actually below capacity), they opted to build two high schools – Cosby and a new Clover Hill – in the Midlothian area.
But this preferential treatment is mirrored in the way Bermuda District’s representatives have traditionally treated Enon. When, before the present recession, the School Board finally began discussing a new high school to relieve the pressure on Thomas Dale, they focused on the yet-unbuilt Branners Station development – not Enon.
Yet Enon would seem an ideal place for a new high school. To begin with, owing to the expansion of Fort Lee, Enon – more than any other part of Chesterfield – seems destined to grow in the coming decade.
Moreover, an Enon high school would relieve – for parents, students and the County’s school buses – the tedious rush-hour commute on Route 10.
Most important, an Enon high school would promote a sense of community in an area which already has long enjoyed a distinct identity. Enon, historically the oldest part of Chesterfield County, has its own churches, youth athletic leagues, and civic organizations, and unique geographical ties with the Tri-Cities. These, combined with the congestion of Route 10 – which no number of added lanes will ever resolve – make Enon a community apart. Why not foster that community by giving Enon a high school of its own?
Of course, an Enon high school would not need to accommodate more than, say, 1,000 students – and Chesterfield authorities seem wedded to the model of the super-sized high school. But when the overwhelming consensus of research indicates that 1,000 students is the ideal size for a comprehensive high school, why not experiment with doing the right thing? Just for once?
With elections five weeks away, Enon residents should ask their School Board and Supervisor candidates what they plan to do for their community.
Here’s a good place to start: Will you pledge to do everything in your power to make Chesterfield’s next school a 1,000-student high school in Enon?