As one door closes; another opens

This year Russell Elementary School is slated to be closed. Just ten short years ago it was involved in a massive renovation. I recall what the school was like during the overhaul. My granddaughter was in kindergarten and I went in once a week to help the students with computer programs because the computer was out in the hall.

My history with Russell Elementary goes well beyond that. In the early ’70s I went there as a substitute teacher frequently. My children were in their early years at the school. I also served as a homeroom mother on numerous occasions.

Each of the children spent a full seven years there including their kindergarten year which was a half-day session at the time. Parents either picked their student up a little after 11 a.m. or drove them to school at 12:30 p.m. My children rode one way on the bus that went right by our home.

When my children were in school, the school held many rural students who came in from the homes and farms around the area. I remember two boys in particular who knew that I lived on a farm. Each day they came to school and asked what was going on at our farm. In one classroom where I taught we could actually see some farm fields. The boys delighted in watching the farmer as he worked his field. There were students who lived in the downtown area and walked to school, too.

The housing developments had not been constructed at that time. In fact, the housing development below Russell was at that time a strawberry field. We went there to pick strawberries each summer. The children were not allowed to pick because the owner felt they might damage the berries but we took toys and blankets along so the children could play in the shade while we picked berries.

I was teaching at Russell when it celebrated its 25th year of service to the community. I am sure that I did a piece for the paper but for the life of me I cannot find a copy. I remember having a celebration. I think we opened a time capsule.

The whole school also celebrated the Pine Grove Township bicentennial. I remember there being an Open House complete with displays of historic landmarks created by the students. The school was an integral part of the celebration as the center of the educational sphere. The faculty and staff wore costumes lent to us by the Warren County Historical Society and marched in the parade. I did find some pictures of those things in one of my scrapbooks.

How ironic that as the school celebrates its fiftieth year of service the year it closes its doors forever! I got to thinking about the people that the school had touched; parents, students, and teachers. Even if the average school population was around two hundred students that makes a total of at least 10,000 students that went up and down those halls.

One year my sixth graders did a project with one of the nursing homes in the area. One of our guests confided in me that she had attended school in Russell; however, it was in the old building that used to be downtown. How proud she was of the area. She told me how good it felt to once again be in an elementary school. That day was truly a treat for the residents and for my students. They learned that “old people” can be fun.

I spent just under 20 years at the Russell school and truly enjoyed my tenure there. The parents were very cooperative and the students for the most part were willing learners. The only time I had anything close to an aide was when I taught kindergarten. Two lovely retired ladies gave of their time one day a week to help me run off papers and prepare for art projects. Each of them has now gone to her reward, but I treasured their help and so did the students. Some children did not have grandparents who lived around here.

As the school prepares to close the Sunshine Committee decided that a celebration was in order. Former and current parents, students, and teachers are invited to an open house to be held in conjunction with the Book Fair and Ice Cream Social. The library will be set up with memorabilia such as old pictures and yearbooks. The retired teachers who live in the area have been asked to help prepare and set up the exhibit.

A school, itself, is a place of history. Everyone who lives in the area has some connection with the school. While this is sad in some ways it is joyous in others. When I taught at the Lander School they were investigating moving that school onto the high school campus, but it never happened. Now, a new elementary school will bring the students from all around this area onto the high school campus. Eisenhower High School will remain open and the elementary campus will connect to it.

Hopefully, the merged school will be more efficient and will benefit the students, faculty, and staff. Since I have grandchildren still attending school I look forward to many events that will take me to the new facility. In preparation for the merger of educational services the high school and middle school have been revamped as well.

There have been a couple years with growing pains, but that is coming to a close. As we celebrate the past I look with enthusiasm to the future. I hope when the facility is ready for occupancy that they see fit to show it off to the community. We cannot celebrate an end and the closing of the doors without having a beginning and the opening of new doors for the education in this area.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net