The old Banks Middle School building was an iconic a landmark in this small Pike County community. The school, which opened in 1937, has been taken down for a newer, bigger Banks School that will accommodate kindergarten through eighth grade on one campus when it opens for the 2022-23 school year.
While the beloved building will be missed, administrators, teachers and parents are universal in their resolve that Banks has been, is now and will continue to be a special place to learn and grow. Banks School principal Shantell Rouse, a relative newcomer as she wraps up her third year, says it “didn’t take long” to confirm that feeling.
“The school is the heart of this community, and the community supports it,” Rouse says. “They love the school. It goes back from grandparents. It’s generation after generation. It’s amazing to see how the community feels about this school. Their response to anything that I need here is just amazing.
“One of the teachers can ask for something and the parents are going to provide it. This year the fifth grade wanted to have their Behavior Day with a Mardis Gras theme. It was amazing what the parents brought in. Field Day, the same way.”
‘The hub of the community’
Karen Smith retired after 41 years in teaching — 31 of those in Pike County and the last 27 at Banks. Her husband, Randall Smith, went to school at Banks.
“There are people who moved here just so their children could go to school at Banks. We’re like family — children that you’ve taught, and you taught their parents,” she says. “Over the years when we’ve had these studies done, the only thing parents wished was that it went through high school.”
Laura Ellis is the reading coach at Banks’ Bethel campus —they call it the “little school” because it is home to kindergarten through third grade — and has been at Banks for 29 years.
“This is the hub of the community,” Ellis says. “My daughter was 18 months old when I came to Banks. She’s 30. She had her first Fall Festival in that old building. All the programs and big events we bussed our kids from the little school for every Honors Day, Field Day, everything.”
She noted that Banks is unique in Pike County in that it is a true community school.
“Our parents love the fact that we know the name of every child in this school,” Ellis says. “This afternoon in the car line, I will have former students and grandparents picking up their kids. They laugh at me when I get my walkie-talkie and start calling out names just by seeing the cars. If you’re not from here, you become one of us really quickly.”
Past and future
The feelings for the school and its ties to the community seemed to grow even stronger when Banks had a community walkthrough at the old building before its demolition.
“I knew that everybody loved Banks,” Ellis says. “But until we had that open house … I still have chill bumps. It was humbling to see how much people loved the school and still loved it. The memories are deep and they’re strong.”
Principal Rouse just shook her head in amazement.
“I had no idea we would have that many people come through here,” she says. “We had over 500 in two days. We did a Saturday morning session and a Sunday afternoon. Saturday was really good, and we just assumed we wouldn’t have that many Sunday. It was just as crowded, if not more.”
Former Banks students brought their families. Rouse said she was glad she was there, but added she didn’t need to be. Former students were happy to take the lead, showing kids and grandkids their old classrooms. One grandfather showed his family where he worked in the cafeteria to pay for his lunch.
“The people were there with their families. This was their building,” Rouse says. “I just sat back and enjoyed watching people take so much pride in going through the buildings and sharing their memories. One couple had been married 50 years. They skipped the junior prom, got married and have been together ever since. It was wonderful.”
The sentiment for the old building was evident. But it was time for something better — and bigger. Rouse says she is eager to have all of Banks School on one campus. The additional classrooms, STEM labs, a Bobcat News Room, choir room and meeting spaces will be even more welcomed by the students and the community.
“Don Renfroe, a former student, said if it’s the best thing for the kids, let it go,” Ellis says. “That’s the way you have to think about it. We’re preparing them for jobs that don’t exist yet. So we’ve got to be able to keep up, at least, with what it is here now.”