Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

School's Halls Turn into Memory Lane; Darnell-Cookman's First Senior Class Includes Veterans from Sixth Grade

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

School's Halls Turn into Memory Lane; Darnell-Cookman's First Senior Class Includes Veterans from Sixth Grade

Article excerpt

Byline: Khristopher J. Brooks

When Xzendia Only walks the halls of Darnell-Cookman Middle/High School, she can remember the changes in and around the building during the past seven years.

She started there as a sixth-grader, when Darnell-Cookman was a neighborhood middle school, and stayed when the school converted to a middle and high school. She was there when the food in the lunch room was less than tasty and when the school lost its busing service.

However, her days at the school are now over. Only joins 54 other students who will graduate from Darnell-Cookman today as the school's first graduating class.

"People say aeMan, you've been here forever' and I go 'Yeah, I know. It's been a while,'a" she said.

Only plans to join the Army after graduation. But for one hour last week, Only wanted to forget boot camp and remember Darnell-Cookman, the teachers, the classes, her classmates. And so she took two of her friends and they strolled the school hallways one last time.

To Only's right was Techeira Francis, 18, who will study nursing at the University of North Florida this fall. On her left, 17-year-old Ashley Delille, a soft-spoken girl who also aspires to be a nurse.

The girls' stroll began down a dark hallway, through double-doors, to a grassy foyer.

As Only entered the foyer, her memories came back. These were the tables her friends sat on, early in the morning, scrambling to do last night's homework before first period.

"Aww man, and there was a fight out here one time," Only said.

Francis looked at her friend in disbelief.

"Really?"

"Yeah," Only said. "I forget who it was though. It was two girls, I think."

"Oh, wow."

The girls walked to the end of a long breezeway, turned left and dipped down a small flight of stairs. At the end of the stairs, Ashley pushed a heavy door and the girls entered a noisy gymnasium, a room made memorable by the antics of Mr. Riley.

Robert Riley is Darnell-Cookman's gym teacher. He's been there for as long as the girls can recall. No matter what the weather, Mr. Riley always wore sunglasses indoors.

"The funny part about him is when he takes off his sunglasses," Only said. "That's when he's trying to be serious."

Ashley and Francis chuckled as they put the word "serious" in air quotes.

"But we don't take him seriously," Only said. "He's a cool guy though."

Mr. Riley always demanded that his students stay moving during class. Most of the time, Francis said, the girls obeyed by walking the perimeter of the gym. And so, for nostalgia's sake, the girls took a lap.

Only and her friends' memories of school are loving and pleasant, but the schools has had its challenges.

In 2009, parents were displeased when Duval County Public Schools terminated busing to some magnet schools, like Darnell-Cookman, which is a dedicated medical magnet. …

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