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Alta Vista: A fond, final farewell

100-year legacy ends as school shuts doors
By: Loryll Nicolaisen Journal Staff Writer
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The Bucks stop here. After 100 years of education and, more recently, continued declining enrollment and months of deliberation and heartache, Alta Vista School finished out the 2007-08 school year — its final year — and a legacy spanning generations of Auburnites. The last day of school felt exactly as it should, with kids’ and teachers’ faces and energy reflecting excitement for the freedom of summer. Second glances revealed a heavier tone. “Everybody shows emotion a little different,” said Sam Schug, Alta Vista principal. “There have been some tears and there will be more tears today. It’s an institution that’s closing and it’s been a part of a lot of people’s lives. The people that realize it’s ending, I think they’re feeling a lot.” Thursday morning started out with staff breakfast — it’s an annual tradition, said Sue Larkins, office administrative assistant. The school day kicked off with a softball game pitting fifth-graders against staff. “Staff kept their (winning) streak alive,” Schug said. Larkins said lots of visitors stopped by Thursday. Others sent e-mails. “We’ve had lots of visitors,” she said. “Past students, parents.” It was hard to keep the tears back, Larkins admitted. “I’m trying not to think about it being the end,” she said. “I think it’s not going to hit until everything’s empty and we turn in the keys.” That said, Larkins does look forward to moving over to Auburn Elementary along with Schug and Janet Dufour, school clerk. “Change is always present and unfortunately, budget cuts have brought this upon us,” Dufour said. “You can either dwell in unhappiness or seek out the future, seek out new paths.” Barbara Whitley distributed yearbooks she had made for her kindergartners, spiral-bound, laminated documentation of her final class’s first year of school. “I splurged because it’s the last year,” she said — past yearbook pages have been slipped into report covers and snapped into three-ring binders. Tracy Bender, mom to four Alta Vista students, spent Thursday in Whitley’s class with her son Sammy. “I’m going through emotions — I’m happy, I’m sad,” she said. “It’s an emotional roller coaster.” Bender’s little ones will attend Bowman School next year. “From one family school to another,” she said. “It’s really sad it’s come down to this. My father went here … and now my children can’t go here. It’s devastating.” Though young, Bender’s children were not oblivious to the fact that their school was closing. “Last night they cried in bed,” she said. Across campus, teacher Don Scott kept an eye on some of Alta Vista’s older students, who were playing basketball and decompressing from Wednesday night’s eighth-grade graduation ceremony. Scott, who has known and taught the outgoing eighth-graders since they were sixth-graders, will teach sixth-grade at Skyridge next year. While the prospect of a new assignment is exciting, there’s no denying that something special Alta Vista offered. “This is a very nice school. It has a nice atmosphere, the kids are fantastic,” he said. “It’s really kind of a bittersweet thing.” Language-arts teacher Rex Bloomfield talked with students on the basketball courts. Bloomfield said he remains disappointed in the Auburn Union board’s decision to close Alta Vista. “To see us close after 100 years of serving the community is a sad time, but a lot of school districts are going through a financial crunch,” he said. “I just feel closing a school did not give them the financial goal of saving money.” Seventh-grader Kristen Black, one of Bloomfield’s students, was frank when asked how she felt about Alta Vista’s closure. “It really sucks,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of history here. I’ve been going here since kindergarten. It’s a great school because it’s a small environment and it’s really easy to get to know people.” Black will attend eighth-grade at either Bowman School or E. V. Cain Middle School next year. “It’ll be kind of an adventure because I’ll get to meet new people, and it’ll be a new environment. It will be fun … but I really wanted to graduate from Alta Vista.” While the upper grades enjoyed their end-of-the-year activities, younger grades lunched on hot dogs and watermelon chunks. A handful of Val Jeppson’s second-graders sat in a circle on the pavement, enjoying their lunches outside. How did these second-graders feel about Thursday being Alta Vista’s last day? “It’s sad, because no more Alta Vista, and we have to go to a school we’re not used to,” said Porter Mickel. Friends and fellow second-graders Keyona Fields and Krysta Magaha lunched nearby. Fields will attend Skyridge, and Magaha will attend Bowman next year. “The few years that I’ve been in school, I’ve been here,” Magaha said. “I’m going to miss my friends, like Keyona.” Third-grader Jeremy Brown, like Magaha, also heads to Bowman. “I’m pretty sad,” he said during lunch. “I’ve been here since kindergarten and it’s one of the first schools I’ve ever been to, and all my favorite teachers go here.” Jeremy’s parents, Ken and Julann Brown, both spent Thursday at Alta Vista with their son. Ken Brown said Jeremy’s older brother Avery is an Alta Vista product currently finishing out sixth-grade at E. V. Cain. “For me, as a parent and as a resident of Auburn, I think it’s tragic that a school like this closes,” Brown said. “It’s for legitimate reasons, but it’s tragic that we are to this point, that we closed a school like this instead of other options. But it is what it is, so we move on.” Shirley Miller’s first-graders finished out Thursday with an ice cream party on the school’s shaded front lawn. “It’s been a great day, an absolutely great day,” Miller said. Miller is one of five Alta Vista teachers retiring this year. She taught at Alta Vista 13 of her 25 years in education. “It kind of didn’t sink in yet,” she said. “I think in August I’ll realize it, when everybody goes back to school. But the school closing makes it bittersweet.” Miller feels blessed to have taught both her daughter and her granddaughter. “I feel a wonderful sense of completion,” she said. “My daughter was in my first class and my granddaughter was in this class. It feels like a complete, wonderful circle.” Miller said Alta Vista’s last day seemed like a happy one for her students. Still, it was a day of heavy hearts. “I’m really sad for the school and the school family and I’m kind of sad for myself, too,” she said. “This has been a big part of my life and I’m sad for the little ones who didn’t get to experience Alta Vista.” Once ice cream sandwiches and cones were consumed, Miller and her final class headed back into their room to gather their things. And then, a few minutes later at 12:20 p.m., the bell rang one last time. The Journal’s Loryll Nicolaisen can be reached at lorylln@goldcountrymedia.com, or comment online at AuburnJournal.com.