Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 27, 2012

KANNAPOLIS — “This is home.”
That’s what Jennifer Sweeney said about A.L. Brown High School.
A 2005 graduate of the school, she returned to teach U.S. history in 2011 after earning her bachelor’s degree from Gardner-Webb University.
“I feel like there is a really good sense of community here,” she said. “It’s nice to have that family.”
Sweeney is one of more than 30 graduates who currently work at the school.
“Everybody that graduates from here just has a strong love for the school and the community,” said English teacher Larry Efird, a member of the class of 1973.
Efird started a group called the K-Lums last year, inviting A.L. Brown alumni to join.
“One of the reasons we wanted to start this group is because if you’re new and move into the community, you don’t know what A.L. Brown was like back in the ’60s and ’70s or even ’90s,” he said. “We just want to encourage people to appreciate the heritage of the school.”
Camilla Buckwell, A.L. Brown’s dropout prevention coordinator who graduated from the school in 1979, said she appreciates the history associated with the school and enjoys sharing it with her students.
Her father, Howard, was the first quarterback at A.L. Brown when the school opened in 1952. Later he coached Wonders football.
“Even when I was little, I was always sitting in the bleachers during games and practices,” she said.
Buckwell said she’s always been a bit of a homebody, going to college a mere 45 minutes away at Wingate University, but she didn’t have plans to settle down in Kannapolis.
She tried living in Charlotte for a few years after earning her bachelor’s degree, but things never felt right.
“I guess I have too much Kannapolis in me because I ended up right back here,” she said. “And I’m so glad that I did.”
Attending A.L. Brown has become a family tradition, Buckwell said. Her grandmother and both parents went to the school. Now her sons, Nick and Tyler, are fourth-generation graduates. Her husband, Chip, was recently promoted to assistant superintendent of the Kannapolis City school system.
“It’s definitely a wonderful place to be, no pun intended,” she said.
Sweeney said she didn’t expect to be back in Kannapolis so soon.
“I didn’t plan to be here so early in my career, but I don’t think I’ll ever leave,” she said. “I’ll probably retire here.”
Sweeney said she enjoys the school’s atmosphere and the fanfare that surrounds the Wonders athletic teams
“My school spirit has grown since I became a teacher here,” she said.
Efird moved away from the area for about 20 years before returning several years ago to live in a mill house, just a short walk from work.
“There’s a sense of pride in knowing that you went to school here, you know the tradition and the roots all the way back,” he said.
Efird said he considers A.L. Brown a “big family.”
“Students know that their teachers care about them, as a person out in the community, not just in their classroom,” he said. “I want to inspire students to be all they can be and to make a difference in the world.”
Buckwell said one of the reasons A.L. Brown is such a close-knit school is because it’s the only high school in the district.
“It’s such a unique experience,” she said. “We have unique things other schools don’t have like the Cyber Campus, the STEM wing and now the vocational building that we’ve remodeled into the arts department.
“We have so much to offer, people would be crazy not to want to work here or go here.”
Buckwell said she had the best time being part of the 300-plus member Big Green Machine marching band.
“We were able to travel to all kinds of places,” she said. “People looked forward to seeing the A.L. Brown band.”
She also remembers when school lunches featured homemade rolls and dessert.
“My sons just can’t believe that,” she said.
With so many fond memories of the school, Buckwell said it’s not surprising that so many alumni flock back to A.L. Brown.
“If you’re born and bred a Wonder, that green blood just kind of stays in you,” she said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.