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History of The Bright School

Miss Bright painting

In 1913, Mary G. Bright, a teacher in the Chattanooga schools, rented a small house on McCallie Avenue and started The Bright School. She and her assistant, Kate Thomas, enrolled 35 children the first year in grades kindergarten through sixth. The following year they moved to a larger house on McCallie Avenue that was nearer town. Enrollment increased each year, and in six years, Miss Bright had employed a teacher for each grade. From the beginning, Miss Bright was a strong advocate for developing the whole child. In the early years of the school, subjects like art, music, and manual training were added to the curriculum. She was also a strong believer in a nurturing, child-centered environment. In describing her goals for the school, Miss Bright stated:

"It has emphasized the importance of a sympathetic understanding of the individual child. It has endeavored to make the school a happy place to which the children will gladly come. The school has always sought to give the children freedom of action and to encourage initiative in work, play, and the conduct of school affairs."

Continued increase in enrollment required several moves. In 1924, George Patten went to Miss Bright with a generous offer of $25,000 so that she could invest in a permanent home for the school. With these funds, the new building was designed by noted architect R.H. Hunt and was constructed on Fort Wood Street. At the same time, it was decided that the school should be incorporated and a Board of Trustees established. Mr. Patten served as the first president of the board. The Fort Wood location was the home of the school for nearly 40 years.

Fort Wood location

In 1963, Bright School was relocated to a new building designed by Gordon L. Smith, Sr., on 55 acres across the river in North Chattanooga. Here the school's enrollment surpassed 300 children, from kindergarten through sixth grade. Over the years, the school complemented its outstanding academic offerings with the addition of a comprehensive physical education program, a pre-school for four-year-olds, and a Spanish program. When local middle schools added a sixth grade, Bright School dropped sixth grade in 2002 and added a junior pre-kindergarten.

The last major building expansion, the Early Childhood Center, was completed in 2001. The building, accessed via a covered walkway, features a sports courtyard, eight spacious classrooms and a playground. Bright School continues today to grow and prosper in accordance with founder Mary G. Bright's vision. It truly is "a happy place to which the children gladly come."

Want To Know More?

In 2013, the school celebrated its centennial. To read stories about the school's history written by John Shearer '72, visit these pages on Chattanoogan.com:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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