Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015 | 2 a.m.
John C. Fremont was a pioneer. Las Vegas owes him a great deal.
John C. Fremont is also a middle school. There are countless thousands of Southern Nevadans who owe it a great deal too. I am one of those people.
Fremont the pioneer explorer has been dead for a long time, but John C. Fremont Middle School, named after the man for whom our most famous street is also named, is just 60 years old this week.
It is said that as we grow older our memories sometimes fade, oftentimes clouding the most recent past in favor of events that happened decades ago. I think that is the case with my recollective powers: I remember well my junior high school years lo those many decades ago, while what I ate at breakfast this morning remains a challenge.
Actually, like everyone I meet these days, even Fremont Middle School is younger than I am. But I remember the days when I was just a boy and Fremont was just the most wonderful school a kid could ever wish to attend.
As with all schools, it is the teachers who make the difference. I plan to go to the 60th birthday celebration at 8:30 a.m. Thursday because I have been told some of my teachers from those early years at the school may be there. I hope they are, because it will give me one more opportunity to say “thank you” for taking the time and expending the energy to teach my friends and me.
Las Vegas was a very different place when John C. Fremont opened as a junior high school. As I recall, there were only three such schools in Las Vegas, and they were more of an experiment to see if it made sense to separate students between their elementary and high school experiences.
Today, some think John C. Fremont should be on the endangered species list because it is old by Clark County School District standards. But that may refer only to the age of the buildings, because what goes on inside that school is remarkable.
Fremont is the only school to house the Professional Development School, a collaboration with UNLV’s College of Education. It has a significant impact on the quality and longevity of new teachers in Clark County. And unlike the school I attended, which was almost on the outskirts of town teaching mostly Caucasion kids from middle-class families, Fremont today is in the dead center of urban Las Vegas and is responsible for educating a student body that is overwhelmingly Hispanic and black. And it continues to do its job.
Yes, times and circumstances have changed in the 60 short years of John C. Fremont’s existence. And teachers such as Carroll Johnston, who inspired me as a seventh-grader, continued to do so when I was an adult and was my daughter’s principal decades later — he has been deservedly honored with his own middle school in North Las Vegas — have been replaced by new, equally dedicated educators such as my friend Christina Wellendorf, who not only teaches English but coaches the boys basketball team.
It’s proof positive that the John C. Fremont I remember is still performing the mission.
It has been a long time since I set foot on the campus on East St. Louis near Maryland Parkway — not sure how I would do as a middle school student these days — but it is only a few more days before I can join what I hope will be many John C. Fremont alums and others from our community to celebrate 60 years and maybe, just maybe, relive a few of those very good times with people who share the understanding that only comes with time.
Brian Greenspun is owner, publisher and editor of the Sun.