Though the school has been officially open since August, the ribbon cutting and first community open house on Thursday, Oct. 7, for Barton Academy for Advanced World Series felt like closure.
A white, Greek revival-style landmark of downtown Mobile, Barton Academy opened as Alabama’s first public school in 1839, serving as a high school and then as an elementary and middle school. The building was the Mobile County Public School System’s central office from the 1960s through 2007. The last decade has been filled with strenuous fundraising efforts to make sure the building did not degrade into ruin or be left abandoned. After about a year’s worth of renovation work, the building was ready to reopen as a new magnet middle school for grades six through nine.
The opening is the result of a large public-private partnership, including the Barton Academy Foundation, which raised $14 million for the building’s interior renovation, and the Mobile County Board of School Commissioners which stepped in and invested an additional $4 million in exterior renovations. While the historical integrity of the building has been kept, resources include a state-of-the-art with a media center, a STEAM lab with 3D printers and a video production lab to help complement the school’s project-based learning philosophy.
“I’m thankful to be open to the community so people can see what their hard work has gone into,” said Barton Principal Dr. Amanda Jones.
Jones says that Barton’s students and staff are “outstanding.” She noted that being able to teach in Alabama’s first public school is a unique opportunity. The community surrounding the school has exceeded Jones’ expectations as it has embraced the institution as a part of downtown and warmly welcomed its students.
Ria Amtha, 13, who is the daughter of Nisha Amtha, is in the eighth grade at Barton and serves as a school ambassador.
“This school is really amazing. It’s really cool how it was built in the 1830s and it has all brand new high-tech technology,” Ria said.
Ria says her favorite class is Spanish. Her teacher has decorated the classroom and helps facilitate creative interactions while teaching.
While it may be too early to decide, Ria says that she is considering a career in architecture or graphic design. She says that she feels empowered to pursue those goals with everything that’s been made available to her at Barton.
Marcee Hinds, who is a seventh-grade civics and geography teacher, says this is her first year teaching in a magnet school. She spent the last 10 years at Baker High School. In her opinion, the community is what sets Barton apart. With a student body of 218, Hinds says that teachers are able to get to know each of their students. She says there is a culture of excellence in the school and that her students rise up to challenges.
History teacher Melissa Motes, who teaches eighth and ninth grade, says that Barton emphasizes project-based learning and that being downtown supplements the teacher experience. She says that students have already been able to go to the local libraries, museums and even walking field trips.
Missy Ahrens of Mobile has a sixth-grader, Noah, who attends Barton. She says that she is so excited to see the school where it is today. “It’s very emotional,” Ahrens said. “It’s an exciting time for everybody,” Ahrens said that parents highly anticipated the beginning of the school year and that it has been encouraging to see the school moving forward strongly despite the lingering challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carolyn Utsey, 88, attended the open house event. She told Lagniappe that she was a student at Barton Academy as a seventh- and eighth-grader in the mid-1940s. Utsey said she stood in some of the classrooms where she was taught in her youth and that the experience has been surreal. “I’m just so proud of Mobile and so thankful that this has happened.”
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