The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

Staff reveal what WJ was like in the past

Photo courtesy of the 1956 Windup
The old WJ building was much smaller than it is today. It used to be located in the middle of a field with cows surrounding it.

A wave of students flood the high school as the bell rings. While walking down the hallways, some can’t help but wonder what WJ was like years before they attended it.

What did this hallway look like? Did they change the building? Did they have the same traditions? What was WJ like in the past?

A few teachers currently in the school building were once those students roaming the halls.

In the year of 1996, a young Daniel Kempner graduated from Walter Johnson High School. Over 10 years later, Kempner returned as a long-term substitute for his former photography teacher, Sam Stamoulis. Now, 14 years since Kempner took up the position, he remains teaching photography in room G86.

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Having experienced WJ as both a student and a teacher, Kempner notes the major differences in the school.

“When I went here, there were 1,200 students, and now there’s nearly 3,000. So it’s just massive. The school grew closer to Giant Food, so I think it expanded that way,” Kempner said.

Kempner recalls his time back in high school, when he was a photographer for The Pitch.

“There was no digital photography, so I had to work in a darkroom and make my prints, and then when the Pitch was going into press, I’d have to bring my pictures on the Pitch, and they would all lay it out themselves,” Kempner said.

Physics and astronomy teacher William J Morris III is one of the most experienced staff members currently teaching, with a record of 37 years. Having his siblings, wife and children attend Walter Johnson, Morris has a long history with the school. He recalls many changes made to the structure and makeup of the building, such as the observatory that was removed when the school reconstruction began.

“The bottom floors were where we stored the telescopes, and then we went up to the top floor, and it opened up the observatory itself, and the telescopes pointed out through the observatory, and the observatory spun, so you could get different parts of the sky,” Morris said.

Similar to Kempner, math teacher Staci Gallun, is also an alumni who graduated rather recently in 2008. During her time, the school was still under construction.

“However, since the building was never knocked down or completely rebuilt, a lot of it is actually the same,” Gallun said.
Along with the school, the surrounding community has also undergone a transformation.

“There was no Flippin Pizza, there was no Chipotle, but there was Bradley’s Icecream Shop. That was a Korean-run deli and ice cream shop that had the best sandwiches, and I would eat there pretty much every day for my freshman, sophomore [and] parts of my junior year,” Kempner said.

Beyond structural differences, the school has remained nearly the same in terms of traditions. Events such as homecoming hallways and pep rallies continue, as students enjoy and take pride in them every year.

“Hallway decorations for homecoming were always a huge thing, as well. WJ definitely outdoes other schools on those,” Gallun said.

On the other hand, the senior tradition of shed painting has not always involved a shed.

“In my time, people would go up on the roof and paint the chimney. You’d put your names on the chimney instead of the shed,” Kempner said.

The custom was changed shortly after Kempner’s graduation.

“They changed the chimney to the shed. It was too dangerous. The kids were hanging off the side of the roof and hanging off the side of the chimney. They moved it from the chimney to the shed, I think just for safety reasons,” Morris said.

Certain traditions were not always this fun, but rather, offensive to a number of students.

“Freshmen used to have to polish the plaques outside of the career center under the clock. That was hazing, so they had to get rid of that,” Morris said.

Despite the substantial evolution of the school students know today, the friendly and welcoming atmosphere has always remained.

“I couldn’t be any more excited to have the opportunity to return to WJ and teach here! It is a testament to how great so many of the teachers in this building truly are – the students here are so lucky to have such wonderful teachers and I am thrilled to now call them my colleagues,” Gallun said.

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Katie Campbell
Katie Campbell, Online Editor-in-Chief
Katie is excited to spend her senior year as an Online Editor-in-Chief for the Pitch. She enjoys playing soccer, reading, and watching Monk.
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Tissa Amaira, Senior Feature Editor
Senior Tissa Amaira is thrilled to start her second year in The Pitch and her first year as Senior Feature Editor. In her free time, Tissa enjoys making music, baking, and spending time with her cat.
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