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The roots of the ECU Laboratory School date back to 1907 with the establishment of the East Carolina Teachers’ Training School. The school fulfilled the order of the North Carolina General Assembly for the establishment of a teachers’ training school “for the training of young white men and women.” The school opened in October 1909 and offered a free education to 461 white, predominantly female students from eastern North Carolina who signified an intention to teach (pg. 9). The segregated foundations of the school, though disheartening, were unfortunately typical of the time and have been since confronted and amended.
In order to offer training teachers practical experience in the professional preparation process, the Training School administration decided to open its own laboratory school. This was common practice for such institutions, offering training teachers a setting in which they could both observe and “test out the best learned in both special and general method, and make many valuable adaptations and discoveries in the process.” Up until this time, the Training School had cooperated with the Greenville Graded School to provide its students the opportunity to observe and practice within an already established public school. However, due to the increase in the number of training teachers, this arrangement became unsatisfactory.
In 1914, after meetings between the East Carolina Teacher Training School (which later evolved into East Carolina University), and the Greenville Graded Schools (which is now part of Pitt County Public Schools), the two parties agreed to open a laboratory school that would function under the jurisdiction of the Greenville Graded Schools Superintendent, but would employ “critic teachers” from the college.[3,4] According to Mary Jo Jackson Bratton, “By this arrangement, East Carolina and the town had once more entered into a cooperative and mutually beneficial agreement so characteristic of their relationship” (pg.110). That cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship has been maintained over the years, as is especially evident in the formation of the new ECU Lab School.
This laboratory school, formally named The Model School, was built on Cotanche Street, in front of what is now Chico’s Restaurant. The school consisted of four classrooms, which was soon determined to be too little space for the needs of the growing number of training teachers, so a second story was added in 1917 to add an additional 4 classrooms. Due to the rapid growth of the campus, soon even the expanded Model School failed to meet the needs of the Teachers College (formerly called the Training School). By 1926, a temporary building was erected on the grounds of the original Model School until the college funded the addition of a Training School on its campus in 1928 (which is now the Messick Theater Arts Building).[4,6] That same year, the original Model School building was condemned because of quicksand under its foundation. The building later burned in 1932, after which point it was deconstructed and the materials were donated to the Greenville schools for building and expanding. Meanwhile, the new Training School continued to expand with additions made in 1929 (second unit), 1949 (training school wing), 1951 (theatre), and 1971 (laboratory).
Between the years of 1941 and 1967, when the college saw an increase from 1300 students to 9000, the college also expanded socially. “Coeducation became a permanent feature of the school… and the first black students were enrolled, first in off- campus programs and in summer sessions for teachers, and then in 1963, in the regular program.”
In 1959, the campus Training School was renamed Wahl-Coates Laboratory School in honor of Francis Wahl and Dora E. Coates who each served at the Training school for 30 years, Wahl as principal and Coates as a supervising teacher. After continued rise in teacher enrollment, East Carolina University (formerly East Carolina Teachers College) and the Greenville City Schools (formerly Greenville Graded Schools) once again entered into agreement in 1967 to build a new Wahl-Coates school, which is currently located on 5th Street and operates under the same name (Wahl-Coates Elementary School) as one of the 16 elementary schools in the Pitt County School District. The school opened in 1972 to approximately 500 students as a K-6 school, changed to a 4th-6th grade school in 1980, and settled into its current K-5 format in 1990.
In 2016, legislation was passed by the state of North Carolina for the development of a laboratory school at each of 8 state universities, East Carolina University being one of the eight selected. The ECU Laboratory School will operate within South Greenville Elementary School of the Pitt County School District, serving low-performing students from across the district. The school is projected to open in the fall of 2017, serving grades 2 through 4, expand to grades 3-5 in 2018, and finally grades P-5 in 2019.
The ECU Lab School is a new chapter in the partnership between East Carolina University and Pitt County Schools, a venture that will maintain the strengths of the past lab school models and the long-standing relationship of the two organizations while once again facing the present challenges involved in educating local youth- together.