Washington Elementary: Soon gone, but never forgotten
By Erin Cox
The first day of school. Those dreaded words popped up too early on the calendar every year, and the first day of kindergarten had no different feeling for me. I was not ready to go.
I put on my favorite t-shirt, one that looked like a faded American flag. My mom tied my long brown hair back in a ponytail with my bangs combed right on the front of my forehead.
My mom wasn’t ready to see her baby go off to kindergarten and I wasn’t ready to go. The half-mile drive down the street seemed like an eternity.
I was nervous walking up to Washington Elementary. Even though I had my older sister Ashley, a second grader, to show me what to do, I still had a death grip on my pink plastic “Beauty and the Beast” lunch box as my hands and the rest of my body shook nervously.
We walked toward the playground when suddenly Ashley spotted a friend and left my side.
“Ashley, what am I supposed to do?” I cried.
“I don’t know. Go play,” she responded unhelpfully.
There I was, on my own, my first day of school, and I had no idea of what to do. I decided to take Ashley’s advice and go play. But as soon as I reached the top of the steps for the monkey bars, the bell signaling the beginning of the school day rang and I quickly climbed back down.
I picked up my pink plastic lunch box and “Pocahontas” book bag and walked up to where all the other students were getting in lines.
This was it. No turning back now. I followed my line of students and off I went through the doors of Washington Elementary.
That day I became friends with two other kindergarten students, Weston Thompson and Brock Thatcher, whom I still consider my friends today, 15 years later. We have a picture of us sitting together that first day. For me, it tells all there is to know about my elementary school. Washington was that place where friendships and memories were made to last a lifetime.
Soon,though, Washington will exist only in our minds. All first through fifth grade students in Van Wert, Ohio, will go to a new school, Van Wert Elementary School in the fall of 2012. Students and teachers are excited to experience the opportunities the new school will bring. Soon after, Washington will be demolished. The home for so many childhood memories will no longer stand.
Now I’m a junior at Bowling Green State University and when I heard the plans to demolish Washington, I began reminiscing about my days at Washington.
I remembered five years ago when I went with my dad to visit his old elementary school in Arjay, Ky. The school hadn’t been used in years. Weeds covered the playground, and broken windows and graffiti marked the building.
I had thought it must be sad for him to see his school in such a pitiful state. I didn’t know it would be my turn soon.
I called my friend Brock, who I had met that very first day of school, as I wondered if I was alone in this disbelief that Washington would soon be gone.
“I honestly didn’t think they would do it,” Brock said. “I spent seven years of my life here, and now it’s like they don’t even care about it.”
I wanted to visit my elementary school one more time before its doomsday, so I went back to visit one last time.
It was a mild February day when I walked in my old school. The first place I came upon as I walked through the school was the stage that was the location of our music classes and holiday programs when I was a kid.
In second grade, I had the privilege of singing one of the solo parts in the song “The Friendly Beasts.”
“I remember about six or seven people had solos in the song and you were so confident,” Brock said.
I was shy back then, and the nervousness I had of singing a solo had caused me to continuously practice my part from the first day I was assigned it. The dress rehearsal had gone perfectly.
During the show, though, I started singing the wrong part. I quickly realized my mistake and few people probably even noticed.
I instantly started crying and refused to finish my part.The Christmas program went on and I left the stage still in tears when it ended.
Thankfully my friend Weston came to my side and said I had done well. Obviously, I knew I hadn’t, but my friend helped calm me down.
Now the stage looks like it’s being used for storage. All holiday programs in Van Wert are now held at the impressive Niswonger Performing Arts Center near the new elementary school and the relatively new high school and middle school.
The NPAC has a big stage with all kinds of lighting equipment and props, comfortable, padded chairs to sit and air conditioning. At Washington, metal foldout chairs were set up in the cafeteria for programs.
My elementary school programs might not have been in a fancy location, but they were that much more intimate. Being able to see the faces of my friends and neighbors in the audience made my embarrassing moment a little bit easier.
William Wisher, the current principal of Washington, thinks that people will miss this closeness.
“Going to the new building is going to be wonderful because it’s all brand new and there’ll be all kinds of opportunities out there, but it’s going to be larger,” Wisher said. “The smallness is what’s unique here.”
When I was in school, Washington was one of six elementary schools. All had grades kindergarten through sixth and kids went to the schools nearest their homes. Since then, the school number has lessened to four and of those, Washington is the only one that will be demolished after the consolidation.
Washington stands in a quiet, middle-class family residential area. I loved knowing that all the neighborhood kids went to the same school as me. The school was the designated meeting spot for friends to play. It seemed we all got along because we could easily maintain our friendships since we lived right next door.
Wisher also said that he would miss the look of Washington.
“Each school has its own personality about it,” Wisher said. “I’m going to miss the architecture that’s here. The way its looks with the wood trim, the solid doors. Those are things I like about the school.”
As I continued down the hallway of Washington, past the office, I remembered how we used to call this side of the hallway the “big kid” side. When I was here, kindergarten through third-grade students stayed on one side of the hallway. Fourth grade through sixth grade got to walk on the “big kid” side. All the younger students dreamed of the day when they walked on the much cooler side.
Now the school is only kindergarten through fourth grades, and students from all over Van Wert go to school here, rather than just the neighborhood kids.
Van Wert isn’t the only school that has started doing away with separate elementary schools in different neighborhoods. The trend has been catching on across the state.
View Van Wert Elementary Schools in a larger map
Van Wert City Schools Superintendent Ken Amstutz said the consolidation of elementary schools in a school district has been happening for quite awhile. This is in part due to the Ohio School Facilities Commission, which works with local school districts to meet their needs, according to Ohio.gov.
For Van Wert City Schools, the consolidation started as a result of the commission offering to put $27 million into building construction for the school district, Amstutz said. The commission would give the school district the money only if one new elementary facility was built rather than rebuilding the separate schools.
When Van Wert City Schools entered into the agreement with the commission to split the $50 million cost of new construction, the school district paid for the building of the new middle school and high school while the state would pay for the new elementary school.
Amstutz said he thought the consolidation of the schools brought numerous advantages. For example, he said that having students together in one grade level together guarantees that all the students in the district are learning the same material. He also said that it is more economically efficient to maintain one school than four.
I wandered out to the playground. I knew from the quietness in the hallways that the students were elsewhere and it was easy to figure out where they were. I was lucky enough to come at the best time of the day – recess time. The screams, laughter and blowing of teachers’ whistles came from the direction of the playground. Recess hadn’t changed.
When I went here, “big kids” had the right to the big swings. I always preferred the bigger swings.
I could go higher and faster, and in sixth grade, my friends and I discovered the ability of the swings to twist in the air as we got as high as possible. We got in trouble during every recess. I wouldn’t say we were troublemakers, but we definitely knew how to push the limits.
As I watched the kids on the playground, I noticed the older kids huddled around the swings. It seemed that the “big kid” swings were still the most popular aspect of the playground.
Fourth graders Alexa Glossett and Ryan Chen both said Washington is where their friends are. That is why they like coming to school every day.
The transition to the new elementary school is exciting for them, even though they are sad that Washington will be demolished.
Fourth-grade teacher Carol Taylor has worked at Washington for 34 years. She went to school there as a child as well.
“It’s going to be bittersweet leaving here,” Taylor said. “I grew up in this neighborhood, so it’s going to make a big change.”
Taylor also said that it is the staff and students that make Washington special.
Washington will house pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students until Christmas break, but come summer 2013, Amstutz said Washington will be demolished.
Amstutz said that some mementos such as plaques will be taken to the new school. However, it is not these mementos that will make me and others who have gone to Washington remember our childhood days there. Instead, it will be friends, like Weston and Brock, whom I met back in kindergarten.
The building will be gone, but the memories will remain.