Mary B. Neal stu­dents learn about their school’s name­sake

Neal stu­dents learn about their school’s name­sake

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By SARA NEWMAN snew­man@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @in­dy_­com­mu­nity

Stu­dents at Mary B. Neal Ele­men­tary School trav­eled back in time Fri­day to 1908, the year their school’s name­sake was born.

“I’m go­ing to tell you who [Mary B. Neal] was and why she was so im­por­tant that Charles County Pub­lic Schools de­cided to name a school after her,” Shemika Berry, a lo­cal ac­tress who por­trays his­tor­i­cal fig­ures for schools and the Ac­co­keek Foun­da­tion, told the stu­dents.

Dressed in 1940s pe­riod cloth­ing, Berry por­trayed Neal as the teacher she be­came in her adult life who spent her ca­reer in Charles County.

The as­sem­bly was the first of a planned an­nual event the school will host ed­u­cat­ing stu­dents about their school’s name­sake.

Kem­berly Blake, a Par­ent Teacher Or­ga­ni­za­tion board mem­ber and par­ent vol­un­teer co­or­di­na­tor, said she came up with the idea to teach stu­dents on who Neal was.

“Many of our chil­dren don’t know why their school is named after her,” Blake said. “I feel it’s im­por­tant for our chil­dren to know who she is.”

Born in 1908, Neal lived in Penn­syl­va­nia be­fore mov­ing to Charles County to teach. She re­ceived her Bach­e­lor’s de­gree from what is now called Bowie State Univer­sity and her Mas­ter’s de­gree from New York State Univer­sity. She be­gan her teach­ing ca­reer in 1929 at Oak Grove Col­ored School, a seg­re­gated one-room school­house in Nan­je­moy. She taught ev­ery sub­ject to 60 stu­dents from grades 1-7.

Berry spoke of Neal col­lect­ing fire­wood out­side dur­ing win­ter so the school­house would be warm enough for the school day and stay­ing the night at stu­dents’ homes when her meet­ings with par­ents would run too late for her to go home in the dark. As Berry de­scribed the con­di­tions of teach­ing in a one-room school­house at the time, the stu­dents gasped as they were asked to imag­ine go­ing to school with no air con­di­tion­ing, wa­ter foun­tains or

bath­rooms inside the school.

Berry il­lus­trated Neal’s ca­reer mov­ing from teacher to prin­ci­pal to the first African Amer­i­can wo­man named su­per­in­ten­dent of Charles County Pub­lic Schools in 1961.

“I loved my stu­dents and I al­ways say, al­ways do right,” Berry said im­i­tat­ing Neale. “Ed­u­ca­tion is the most im­por­tant thing.”

She mar­ried Clay­ton “Bus” Neal and had one son, Clay­ton David Neal. She died in 2005 at the age of 96, three years be­fore the ele­men­tary school opened in her name.

“Re­mem­ber, you rep­re­sent me, the legacy and this school. Can I count on you to re­mem­ber you are the legacy of Mary B. Neal?” Berry asked to a cho­rus of “Yes,” replies from the stu­dents.

A vet­eran of por­tray­ing his­tor­i­cal fig­ures in schools, Berry said she finds many

stu­dents re­mem­ber sto­ries told in front of them rather than read­ing them from a text­book. The cos­tumes and the voice changes are what helps trig­ger stu­dents’ mem­o­ries of some­one they learned about and why they’re im­por­tant.

“If I were Mary B. Neal,” Berry ex­plained, an­swer­ing a ques­tion from a stu­dent, “I would go around to schools and make sure the stu­dents know and ap­pre­ci­ate their teach­ers and know how im­por­tant their ed­u­ca­tion is.”

A pic­ture of Mary B. Neal pre­sides over the front of­fice of Mary B. Neal Ele­men­tary School in Wal­dorf. Stu­dents re­ceived a pre­sen­ta­tion about the school’s name­sake Fri­day.

STAFF PHOTOS BY SARA NEWMAN

Shemika Berry, a lo­cal ac­tress, an­swers ques­tions from stu­dents as Mary B. Neal. Berry gave a pre­sen­ta­tion to stu­dents at Mary B. Neal Ele­men­tary School in Wal­dorf about their school’s name­sake Fri­day.

A col­lage of Mary B. Neal watches over stu­dents in the cafe­te­ria of Mary B. Neal Ele­men­tary School in Wal­dorf. The stu­dents re­ceived a pre­sen­ta­tion about their school’s name­sake Fri­day.

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