NWL Middle School celebrates 25th anniversary
Northwestern Lehigh Middle School auditorium was packed and all eyes were fixed on the time capsule buried 25 years ago.
The artifacts, carefully placed in the time capsule, stirred the collective imagination and represented what the school valued when it first opened its doors in 1992.
The school’s first principal, Dr. James Warfel, that had the capsule placed in the cornerstone of the building, knowing one day it would be exhumed.
“We wanted to create a lasting piece of who we were when the school opened,” he said. “The cornerstone contained a metal box for that exact purpose.”
Inside were class rosters of all the students in attendance back then, a floor plan of the school, a student handbook and a copy of a local newspaper.
In his opening remarks, middle school Principal William Dovico summarized the next 25 years in a few words.
“This was a blank slate,” he said. “There wasn’t a middle school culture and the Eagles did not have a Vince Lombardi trophy, but a quarter of a century later it’s become an elaborate tapestry.”
The world did change and Northwestern Lehigh Middle School flourished, so it was no surprise when teachers Wendy Madouse and Liz Gates approached Dovico last year with the idea of a celebration.
“That’s when an anniversary committee was formed,” Assistant Principal Amy Stauffenberg said. “We looked back. We had the program of our opening and we knew Jim Warfel had put a note in a time capsule.
“Originally, only Maureen Roman and l were going to take the contents out during an assembly but we wanted to bring people back to speak and we wanted to get our students involved.”
In addition to the special assembly, numerous other activities marked the day including building tours, the unveiling of Tiger Tales plaques and even a flash mob.
At the end of the school day, adults could continue the celebration and reunion at Eight Oaks Distiller, New Tripoli.
“Today is a good time to be proud of our school and realize how far we’ve come over the years,” seventh grader Maci Fisher said.
Roselyn Bernhard, an eighth grader, agreed.
“This is a time to remember those who taught you new things,” Bernhard said.
Service to Northwestern youth was the core of the celebration.
“We kicked off our 25th anniversary with a Walk for Wyatt,” Madouse said.
Wyatt Newhard, a seventh grader, is continuing his battle against cancer.
“Our students got pledges last November raising $11,200 for Star Treatments which provide transportation for families like Wyatt’s going for treatment,” Madouse added. “We’ve been working [on the 25th anniversary celebration] since then.”
Countless hours of preparation led up to the events of Feb. 16.
“Liz Gates went through every yearbook and invited back retirees, past students, school board members and teachers,” Madouse said.
Madouse compiled pictures and images for a slideshow that captured the school’s past.
And that is just part of the story.
Roman smiled when she pointed to a purple cape displayed in the library.
The cape was worn by then principal, Jim Warfel, as the “M&M man” symbolizing “mature and motivated middle school students.”
“As principal, I wanted a way to recognize students and to be able to interact with them in a fun manner,” explained Warfel. “Each marking period teachers could submit the names of students who were deserving of recognition [meriting] a classroom visit from the caped M&M Man, who would present them with a certificate and a bag of M&Ms.
“It was the silliest thing I ever did but I believe for many students it worked and allowed me a positive way to relate to them.”
Stories like these show the middle school is much more than brick and mortar.
“When you hear them talking about the past, it’s very touching,” said Stauffenberg, who had nothing but praise for the middle school staff and the work they did in advance of the celebration.
Roman could not overstate the importance of the anniversary celebration but not only as a way to reflect on the past.
“Who we are as Northwestern Middle School reflects our identity and explains why we are who we are,” she said.
For her, the anniversary will bring back “everyone in the world who I’ve really admired and cared about.”
“It’s really important for schools to cultivate and sustain a positive culture,” said Warfel, who now serves on the school board. “Part of that is to cherish the history, core values and beliefs, practices, legends and icons that are a part of what this school is all about.”
“The committee did a lot of work,” Stauffenberg said. “Our staff is so great. They dedicated the first semester so this celebration could take place. We definitely [felt] the energy in the building this week.”
“We have over 80 people coming back. That they’re so excited to come, kind of gets you choked up.”
The principal’s secretary, Sandy Horvath, was equally surprised.
“We have over 88 responses, a lot of former teachers, and administrators and board members,” she said. “I’m surprised about how many parents are coming.”
Guests came from near and far.
State Rep. Gary Day, R-187th, addressed the audience and retired educators including Jan Wechsler, who flew in from California, and Karen Fleming who flew in from Georgia.
Numerous alumni took time from their jobs to participate in the celebration as well.
A lot has changed including personnel but six teachers from 1992 are still a central part of the middle school staff.
In addition to Madouse and Gates, these include Matt Fritz, Dave Evans, Kelly Fornauf and Maureen Roman.
“In 1992 with Jim Warfel leading the crew, I was hired but there were [those] who came down [from the high school],” Madouse said. “This was a grade fifth through eighth building, but the fifth graders left in 2009 because we outgrew the building.”
These days, “Tiger PRIDE” stands for “positive attitude, respectful behavior, individual accountability and dedicated learners equals success,” but Dovico stressed it is the relationships that continue to be the secret sauce.
“It’s the relationships that make this school special,” he said. “Our foundation is solid and our future is bright.”
“I have been just so fortunate to be able to have taught at such a great middle school,” Madouse said. “I have learned from the best teachers that served as mentors and been a member of teams that have inspired students with interdisciplinary adventures. I am just so honored to be sharing our proud history with this 25th anniversary celebration.”
“[This] celebration renews the spirit of the school and deepens our commitment to that culture,” Warfel said.
“I love our building. We’ve done so much, [especially in] our community service,” Roman said. “We didn’t want all we did to be forgotten.”