Carpool time at the first Highlander school location - Highlands Christian Church, 9949 McCree

Carpool time at the first Highlander School location – Highlands Christian Church, 9949 McCree, circa 1970

When Highlander School hosts its 50th Anniversary Celebration Saturday, November 5th, volunteers planning the event hope to see alums, parents and former teachers from the school’s first five decades. They’ve taken to social media to invite graduates now working as far away as Prague, and they’ve set up Facebook and Instagram accounts to collect and share old photos and memories.

The festivities will be bittersweet.

Betty Woodring, founder of the school, died of a heart attack just before school began this year. Her daughter, Jill Reed, has led the school for the past ten years.

“I feel a sense of pride for the place my grandmother created,” says Matalee Reed, who graduated from Lake Highlands High School in 2012 and Wake Forest in 2016. “Highlander is simply a family and always has been. You can’t walk into that school without feeling an overwhelming amount of love. When I see Highlander, I see programs, field trips, going to the creek, Muffins with Mom, Field Day, the pumpkin patch, P.E. with Mrs. Moore – the list is endless.”

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Highlander opened on September 7, 1966 at Highlands Christian Church, 9949 McCree. The school was a simple solution to a simple problem – Woodring was then an educator doing research to find the best method of teaching children to read, and the Carden Method’s dissection of words and sentences topped her list. When she could find no Carden school in Dallas for her own two children, Woodring started one. She advertised by direct mail and delivered brochures door-to-door, and Highlander began with 29 Kindergarten and pre-K students. She added a grade each year and graduated the first sixth grade class in May 1974 with a total enrollment of 255. The school flourished, and Highlander moved to its current location at 9120 Plano Road in 1978.

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“I love how Highlander has a big playground with all the green space toward the creek,” says Meghan Richardson Riney, a 1994 graduate of Highlander with one son now enrolled and two more planning to attend when they are old enough. “It feels magical there – like a whole different world.”

“It’s nice being able to have nativity plays and Easter programs and Christmas parties – and Highlander still teaches cursive writing! Just this morning, I heard a boy reciting his poem. Do that enough times and you can go off to junior high and not be afraid of anything. I remember doing Oregon Trail on these huge Mac computers. If you didn’t do well, it told you you died of dysentery. I remember painting the U.S. map on the sport court and playing on that big crab apple tree.  And, when we were in 3rd grade, we would go out onto the playground and tuck the bibs of our jumpers into our skirts so we’d look like 4th graders. There’s not a girl that didn’t do that,” laughs Riney.

“I remember doing lots and lots of sentence and analysis in our English classes – and honestly it was painfully brutal at the time,” admits Mac McCann, a University of Texas grad now writing for the online news outlet, Complex.com. “After graduating from Highlander, though, I finally realized how extremely helpful those lessons were. While Highlander’s academic lessons were beneficial for me, it’s the life lessons that have really stuck with me. Unlike any other school I’ve attended, Highlander was a family. They were always challenging us to be better people, not simply better students. Whether it was learning about a wide variety of sports in P.E. or doing carpool duty or singing and acting in the programs or doing our ‘jobs’ at Carden Cove or memorizing poems, students were always encouraged to do their best, and to make their best even better. I may not remember all of the poems or the specifics of the Carden method (and unfortunately I never learned to sing, despite a lot of practice for the programs), but the sense of community, the family of Highlander, is something that I’ll always appreciate.”

“Highlander is special for all the little things,” agrees Riney, “things like saying the pledge, hearing a prayer and having sixth graders help little ones out of the car.”

The 50th Anniversary Celebration will be held Nov. 5th from 12 to 4 p.m. in conjunction with the annual school carnival. There will be food trucks, live music, bounce houses, memorabilia and a teacher ‘meet and greet.’ The event is free, but forms are available online here to purchase t-shirts, underwrite the carnival or make a contribution in honor of Dr. Woodring. If you have photos or memories to share, you are encouraged to upload them to the Highlander School 50th Anniversary Celebration Facebook or Instagram pages. If you’ve got memorabilia to display at the event, email Meredith Floyd Moseley, meredithmosley@me.com.

Betty Woodring with her first first grade class, 1967

Betty Woodring with her first first grade class, 1967

Highlander program, circa 2003

Highlander program, circa 2003: Rosie Center, Bethany VanMeter, Matalee Reed, Sarah Campbell, Meredith Magee and London Dority

James Lonergan, Mac McCann and Caleb McCoy in their Kindergarten nativity play

James Lonergan, Mac McCann and Caleb McCoy in their Kindergarten nativity play

Highlander Field Day, circa 1989: Christy Cox, Meghan Richardson Riney, Katy Kibler, Kelly Cantrell and Brooke Fannin

Highlander Field Day, circa 1987: Christie Cox, Meghan Richardson Riney, Katy Kibler, Kelly Cantrell and Brooke Fannin