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'We are one'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Josephine Wilson became emotional when students at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary filed in Tuesday morning.

"It was a very emotional experience for me to see all of the beautiful children so disciplined. I knew it was because of the hard work of the faculty at this school," said Wilson, 86.

The West Side school was recently named in honor of her sister, Mary C. Snow, who served as Kanawha County's first black principal of a desegregated school and dedicated her life to advancing education in the area.

A ceremony took place Tuesday evening to celebrate the renaming of the school, which the Kanawha County Board of Education approved in July after months of debate.

The issue had been debated over the past year. Initially, most Kanawha school board members had been reluctant to alter the school's name.

The name "West Side" had been selected by a vote of students and residents in March 2009. But members of the community said the naming process was flawed and last year began voicing their support for adding Snow's name, saying they wanted to recognize the county's first black principal to work in a desegregated school.

In July, school board members voted to add her name to the school.

Wilson said Snow was not only "a driving force who gave unselfishly" as the eldest of seven siblings growing up on the West Side, but also when it came to bettering education.

Snow was named Woman of the Year by the American Biographical Institute and received the YWCA's Woman of Achievement Award and the governor's Living the Dream Award. In addition, she led the Human Rights Commission, the Kanawha County Retired Teachers Association and other community outreach groups. She died in 2011 at the age of 98.

"My sister loved life. She loved people. But most of all she loved children. As a result of her encouragement, many have been able to accomplish much," Wilson said. "May the many young lives who go through these hallways be reminded of the individual that this school is named for. As they grow in wisdom and knowledge, they will indeed keep the spirit of Mary."

Bill Raglin, vice president of the Kanawha County Board of Education, reminded everyone that the renaming of the school isn't just about a sign outside the building.

"If Mary were here, she would tell you that bricks and mortar don't make an education. She would be proud to see her name on the school, but she would be even prouder if children walked out of here with a first-class education," he said. "We need to honor her by making sure every child is given the best shot possible."

Nearly 100 percent of Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and the school showed some of the lowest standardized test scores in the state this year.

That's why the school's vice principal, Beth Sturgill, believes the new name ties the community and the students together more than ever and can lead to academic achievement.

"This is a chance to reach out and let the children know that there are people who care about them and believe in them [and] let them know that they can reach their goals. Let's honor Ms. Snow's memory by doing that," Sturgill said.

Ashley Grogg, a teacher and former faculty senate president at the school, said the renaming marks new beginnings.

"By renaming our school, we are instilling Ms. Snow's beliefs. We are no longer a school and a community, we are one: The Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School," she said.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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