Troy Castimore laughs Friday evening with Vickie Herrmann as the two look at pictures and comments from Sears Elementary School students on the wall of the school's gym during a gathering to mark the school's closing. Castimore taught at the school from 1987 to 1999. "It brings back lots of memories," she said. "It's kind of sad: The end of an era."
Photos by M. Scott Moon
“Last call for buses; all bus riders should be on the bus now.”
For 39 years, students at Sears Elementary School in Kenai have heard those words over the school public address system every day, just a few minutes after the closing bell. On Friday, that familiar phrase marked the closing of a box full of memories, and the promise of more memories in the making in the years to come.
“This school is about relationships,” Sears Elementary Principal John Cook told the more than 300 people crammed into the gym to formally say goodbye to the school. “... Sears Elementary is about family partnerships, and community partnerships ... and it’s also about academic achievement. Finally, it’s about fun.
“... How many of you are excited to head to Mountain View next year?” Cook asked of the many students in the room.
Community members line up for hot dogs during the picnic that kicked off the event.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
After four decades of service to the Kenai community, Sears Elementary will be consolidated with Mountain View Elementary to form a new kindergarten through fifth-grade school at Mountain View. Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science, a district charter school, will occupy the Sears Elementary building.
Sears Elementary’s formal goodbye began informally, with a cookout on the playground behind the school. School staff and volunteers served up nearly 450 hot dogs as families enjoyed blue skies and throngs of children played on the swings, jungle gyms, slides and sled hill.
The gathering moved inside for the more formal part of the evening, which started with a slide show documenting Sears’ history and the students who started their education in the building.
A choir of current Sears Elementary students sang a welcome song, and followed that up with “Love Is Something if You Give It Away,” which is followed by the line, “You end up having more.”
“I chose this song for all those people who have poured so much into this school for all these years,” said Elaine Larson, the school’s long-time music teacher.
A group of Sears alumni opened up a memory box and shared with the audience some of the highlights of a year at the school. They started with the stop sign that the school custodian, Janine Carlough, holds up to help children across the parking lot every morning, and then shared an audio clip of the Pledge of Allegiance, and the words students are taught to live by every day: “Be safe, be kind, and do your best.”
Out of the box of memories they pulled some of the outfits they would have worn for the school’s harvest parade, Christmas concert and pajama day. They had one last teddy bear parade around the gym. They found items in the box representing the spring carnival and bike rodeo, and some of the field trips students take annually.
When they completed the skit, the students packed all the items back into their Sears memory box, and put it back up on a shelf. The side of the box was marked, in big letters, “handle with care.”
Kenai Mayor Pat Porter said her history with the school goes a long way back her daughter started at the school the year after it opened, and her son attended the school a few years later. Four grandchildren also were Sears students.
“My heart is in this school, as well,” Porter said.
Cook said Sears students are known for wiggling and squirming.
“They also hope, they dream, and they learn,” he said.
District Superintendent Donna Peterson said Sears not only has withstood the harshest of Alaska winters without needing so much as a remodel, but has been on the leading edge in terms of implementing programs now used districtwide.
“This school has always been about thinkers and doers, and about caring people,” Peterson said.
Don Weller, a physical education teacher at the school for 24 years, acted as master of ceremonies for the evening and took a moment to thank everyone for attending. The Sears staff joined together to sing “A Song for Sears,” which concluded with the lines, “But now we’re moving on to sing another song, in our new school at Mountain View.”
“We have a lot of great memories here,” said Jenna Thomas, a former Sears student now attending Kenai Central High School. Thomas was part of the Sears memory box skit.
Jason Yeoman, whose daughter Nadia attends Sears, said Nadia is excited to move up to Mountain View next year.
“I think the teachers, they’ve been pretty positive about the change, so she’s excited about it,” he said.
Yeoman’s wife, Jennifer, said she’s sad to see the building close.
“I hope they put it to good use,” she said. “That’s important to me. I went to school in Soldotna, but for people who grew up in Kenai, it’s even more meaningful.”
Will Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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