East Elementary School in Athens has been home to countless students and staff members over the years, and on Friday many of them returned to give the old halls one last hurrah.
East is scheduled later this year to be the first of the school district’s buildings to be torn down. The demolition will make way for one of two 435-student buildings for pre-kindergarten through third grade as part of a districtwide facilities overhaul.
Friday’s Spring Social celebrated generations of memories made at East Elementary. Alumni and their families were invited to tour the building one last time as the current student body celebrated the approaching finish to the school year.
Outside, DJ Rockin’ Reggie spun tunes and blew bubbles while several food trucks hawked their wares, and a blow up slide and bouncy house delighted the scores of children.
Susan Holsapple has taught kindergarten in the building for 35 years, and even did her student teaching there. She stayed in her classroom for most of Friday evening, greeting former students and reminiscing about the experiences had in the building. Holsapple is retiring this year, and says that makes the sting of watching the old building be torn down a little bit easier to handle.
“It is sad to lose the building,” she said. “My favorite part of teaching was the children and their families. I loved the parental support, and I just felt like the principal Denny Boger just made everyone feel like family. Everyone pitched in and helped.”
Boger retired in 2013 after 30 years as principal.
Holsapple noted that East Elementary was the place where children who needed English as a Second Language classes would attend school, and said the international community helped enrich the school environment.
The event celebrated all aspects of the building, allowing community members and children to explore the halls freely. Visitors searched through old school memorabilia, including decades of class photos and Messenger newspaper clippings. One last Scholastic book fair was also held upstairs.
Around every corner was a new adventure — in the gym, a painting of Bugs Bunny grinned across the basketball court where a mural fills the opposing wall. Just around the corner, a stairwell simulated the ocean, filled with student-made pottery. Current students’ artwork was also on display, lining the walls so that family, teachers and friends could view their prowess with various artistic mediums.
In the music room, a video played highlights of the celebration held at the school when parts of the building turned 100 years old. A time capsule was also displayed in the box, with past students and teachers beaming on the slightly yellowed pages. Cara Sheets and Julia Park, juniors at Athens High School, recalled being on-hand for the 100-year celebration.
“We were in 3rd grade,” Sheets remembered. “There was a logo design contest, and a big presentation on that day. Alumni were there and spoke to us, brought memorabilia in. Each grade was assigned something to do for the celebration to commemorate the school.”
The two former students also shared memories of Boger as principal.
“He was just the best principal you could possibly have,” Sheets said. “He learned all of our names in the first week of kindergarten. He still knows my name.”
“I definitely remember Mr. Boger,” Park agreed. “I remember the Lion King was a big deal. Mr. Boger dressed up in a tuxedo and waved the buses in the week of play.”
But it wasn’t just Boger who made the school special — Park and Sheets said all their teachers made a difference. However, Boger’s name cropped up in quite a few conversations throughout the evening.
Molly Lee, who attended East Elementary beginning in 2008, also called Boger “the best principal.”
“He’s just amazing,” she said. “He could go around the cafeteria and say hi and know the name of every student.”
Others experienced the school over different time periods. Claudia Shultz said she’s taught at the school for 13 years, and also had her student teaching in the building.
“I did it in the part of the building that is no longer here,” she said. “The hundredth year celebration was very special. But probably my favorite memories are just of the amazing community.”
She spoke about how the teachers, parents and students meshed well, creating a good working environment for all involved.
“I am sad to see it go,” she said, noting the possibilities ahead with the new school buildings to come. “I’m really happy for our community to really share the wealth. All of us will be working together. I’m excited for us to share all of the students in Athens City Schools, I think it’s a positive move for programming.”