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Question leads teacher to research her school

About this time last year, a new employee at West Valley High School noticed the program at graduation was called the “99th Commencement of West Valley High School.”

She asked if there was any big celebration planned.

The answer to that question was difficult to find. The old cornerstone of the original West Valley High School is still with the school as part of the grand arch saved by former Superintendent Dave Smith. The date on that is 1924, which is true, mostly.

European history teacher Jodee Cahalan, a WVHS graduate, went through memorabilia of the school and found the program from her graduation. Sure enough, back in 1977 they celebrated the 66th commencement. She then visited her mother, also a graduate of West Valley. In 1958, that number added up, too.

“Over the summer, I went down to the district office and started looking through the research materials they have available there,” she said. “They have all kinds of records of school board meetings and things, not just from West Valley, but from previous districts that we inherited.”

What she found was information about a school in the area that opened in September 1900 with 28 students, which Cahalan assumes was called Orchard Park School. Much of the information was collected in a book by A.B. Ness, “A History of Orchard Park Schools and West Valley High School.”

In 1910, Orchard Park School hired a principal for $1,000 a year. That same year, a contractor was hired to build a four-room, brick-veneered building with a basement for the grand total of $6,300.

In the book, Ness said a complete high school curriculum wasn’t developed for the Orchard Park School system until 1916, and two years before that, the high school was moved from Orchard Avenue to the Millwood Building, which later became Millwood High School.

It wasn’t until 1924 that the Union High School District was formed by combining several smaller districts. But it wasn’t met without controversy.

“The problem of a new high school building presented itself,” wrote Ness. “Several questions arose in this connection. First of all, what should be the name of the proposed new facility? At a meeting at Trent, a patron asked somewhat belligerently: ‘I suppose the name will still be Millwood High School?’ Quick as a flash, Fred Syverson shot back: ‘No, it will be called West Valley High School.’ The new name met with almost universal favor.”

The new West Valley High School was built at the corner of Argonne and Trent, where Albertsons is today. It was dedicated in 1925. In 1959, a new West Valley High School opened at the corner of Vista and Buckeye. The old high school became Argonne Junior High.

“When they decided to tear it (Argonne) down and sell it to Albertsons, I always say I went to Albertsons Junior High,” Cahalan said.

Although that first graduating class from 100 years ago can’t be found, Cahalan has found a yearbook from Millwood High School in 1916. It was called “Amasika.”

She pointed to the very old book which she kept under lock and key during her research.

“It says here what it means,” she said. “ ‘Amasika has been our ever ready password. Ever wide awake and full of life, our very name suggests to us, awaken. It is a symbol of spirit, of truth, of honor. It is our slogan of success and gratitude for opportunities offered in Millwood High. Three cheers for Amasika.’ ”

After considering the history, it was decided Cahalan will say a few words at this year’s commencement ceremony.

“We really decided since it’s not the 100th of West Valley, we’re not going to do the whole 100th celebration, but we have a whole bunch of ideas we want to do for the really 100th, the 100th of West Valley,” she said. “We want to make that a yearlong extravaganza of Eagleness.”

That won’t happen until the 2024-’25 school year. Although this year is Cahalan’s 29th year of teaching, she hopes to still be teaching during the centennial.

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