Last day at Pate-Gardner: ‘We really felt it would not come to pass’

Pate-Gardner Elementary School third grade students Connor Kowaleski and Haylee Cameron add a stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh toy — the mascot of Jennifer Pegues’ class — to a time capsule on Wednesday in commemoration of Pate-Gardner’s closure this year.

Pate-Gardner Elementary School fourth grade teacher Melanie Meredith and student Arreon Terry add a Pate-Gardner T-shirt and a list of 2015 trivia items to a time capsule on Wednesday to mark the final year of school at Pate-Gardner.

Pate-Gardner Elementary School fourth grade students Emma Seales, let, and Naomi Goldson add a photo and memories of Jessica Mager’s class to a time capsule on Wednesday to mark the final year of school at Pate-Gardner.

GIBSON — When current Pate-Gardner Elementary School students start the fall term at Sycamore Lane, new classrooms, new hallways, and new faces will supplant the familiar routines of Pate-Gardner.

But on Wednesday, the final full day of school at Pate-Gardner in its 64-year history, students, staff and parents recalled the pieces of Pate-Gardner’s community and culture that they will not so soon forget.

“This just says what Pate-Gardner is,” exceptional children’s teacher Wendy Myers said as she added her classroom’s motto to a time capsule that will travel with the students to Sycamore Lane.

“In this classroom, we give second chances, we apologize, we forgive. We respect each other, we keep promises, we never give up. We encourage one another, we laugh often, we belong.”

On Monday, the Scotland County Board of Education after months of deliberation voted to close both Pate-Gardner and Washington Park elementary schools at the end of the current school year and to assign both schools’ students to Sycamore Lane, currently a middle school.

All county middle school students will attend either Carver in Laurel Hill or Spring Hill in Wagram.

“We haven’t talked a lot about it, because to be honest we really felt it would not come to pass,” said Pate-Gardner principal Chuck Dulin, a hope which survived until last month, when the school board held a public hearing as legally required before calling for a vote to close the school.

“We haven’t said a whole lot in the classrooms. Before testing I would not allow teachers to discuss it in any way, shape or form. The last thing I wanted was our kids to be disrupted right before End of Grade tests.”

Following the school board’s formal vote on Monday, Pate-Gardner sent home letters and messages to parents. For his part, Dulin said he has tried to stress the positive elements of the move, apart the effect of monies saved by the school system, which will not directly impact students.

“It’s a sad thing that we’re closing and they’re going to miss their school, but I just wanted to concentrate on the positive,” he said. “It’s going to be a new beginning at a new school and they’re going to have an opportunity to meet so many more friends at a bigger school.”

A time capsule each from Pate-Gardner and Washington Park will be displayed or buried at Sycamore Lane. On Wednesday, at the conclusion of the school’s final awards program, representatives from each of Pate-Gardner’s classes placed mementos in a shoebox, plastered with colorful construction paper bearing the names of every student.

Kindergarten teacher Lindsay Spangler deposited a book titled “Look out Kindergarten, Here I Come,” signed by all 27 of Pate-Gardner’s kindergarten students, and first grade students contributed the giant fuzzy die that has been a favorite plaything.

Second grade teacher Vanessa Lapre added the hanging apple which for years has faithfully marked her classroom.

“In every classroom there hangs an apple, which tells the teacher’s name,” she said. “You get the apple from the first day you start until the very last day.”

Jennifer Pegues’ fourth grade class, affectionately termed “Pegues’ Pooh Bears,” included their Winnie-the-Pooh mascot, and fourth grade teacher Melanie Meredith added the Pate-Gardner T-shirt bequeathed to her on her first day by former principal Melody Snead.

“She handed me this T-shirt that said ‘Welcome to Pate-Gardner,’ with the original Pate emblem on it,” said Meredith. “Also we added some things about 2015: top TV shows, top songs, and what an average vehicle and home might cost today.”

Fourth graders Emma Seales and Naomi Goldson added a poster highlighting their fondest memories of Jessica Mager’s classroom, including the scariest moment “when we found a HUGE spider and Mrs. Mager screamed,” the funniest “class impressions of Mrs. Mager and how she talks with her eyes,” and happiest: “When everyone showed growth on the EOG, being in this classroom, Miss Gibson’s party.”

Throughout the school board’s deliberations, administrators have said that no staff will lose their jobs due to district-wide consolidation. Those teachers who are not retiring, Dulin said, may be following the students to Sycamore Lane.

“We got past the being upset, past the sadness, past the crying, and really just wanted a decision because all of us are here for the children,” he said, applauding Pate-Gardner’s staff at the conclusion of Wednesday’s program.

“Standing in front of you and around the walls are absolutely some of the hardest-working people you’ll ever meet. They love the students, they love their kids, they love what they do, they love being here.”

The school system will hold a closing ceremony at Pate-Gardner at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.