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Washington Elementary has ‘bittersweet’ reception PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 18 May 2017 11:54



• Leader & Times

Washington Elementary School has been a part of the Liberal community for many years, and with the progress being made on the final part of the bond project, the school will be one of the buildings closing after this school year. 

“It’s bittersweet,” former Washington Elementary School teacher Anabel Castillo said. “It’s great we’re getting new schools in the district, but it’s a little sad to see because I have some great memories here, great co-workers and staff, and I think this school has a great group right now. It’s kind of exciting to see Liberal growing and everything.”

“Yeah, it’s bittersweet,” Washington Elementary School Paraprofessional Donna Moody added. “It’s great we’re getting new schools, but at the same time, this was my school when I was in kindergarten, and I went from kindergarten through 6th grade here, so there’s some great memories here.”

The building has seen many students come through since the early 1950s, with an open house hosted in March 1954. The building replaced an older school building, which was eventually demolished, and was built for $255,000 as part of a project at that time for three new school buildings, according to a March 1954 article from the Southwest Daily Times. That history is part of what will make it hard to let the building go, according to current Washington Elementary School Principal Traci Mettlen. 

“We all rather have the growth mindset, as we should, so we’re excited about opening up new buildings, but I also feel like it’ a bittersweet moment since Washington has been here since I believe 1952,” Mettlen said. “And I think at the ceremony, there were a lot of memories and a lot of teachers who had taught here and expressed some stories. So it’s slightly bittersweet, but we’re really excited about moving into the future. Even looking back at just some of the little things, it is a very old building, so I think we’re excited about new technology and things of that nature the new buildings will bring. And of course, just looking at keeping students first, moving with the times.”

“I agree, and I feel like it kind of goes back to our hashtag #creatinghistory,” current Washington Elementary School Assistant Principal Jamie Downs added. “This is a very historic building, it’s been around a long time, and a great many people in the community have gone through it as students. But we are moving on because it’s time, and we’re ready. If you think about how the world was back then, compared to the way things are now, it’s just not adequate for our students’ needs.”

In the many years the school has been open, there have been many memories made. alt

“There’s just a lot of them,” Castillo, who was actually pregnant with her son, Luis (who also eventually attended Washington) said with a laugh. “The staff and everyone were amazing, and some of them are still here from when I was working here.”

“My favorite thing was doing the math games, especially the multiplying,” Luis added. “It was fun trying to race other people and see who knew everything better.”

“Some of the major things for me, because I was at different buildings when pre-K wasn’t together, so I was here at the beginning of creating it to be pre-K as well as the elementary school,” Mettlen said. “Just that molding of those relationships between the pre-K staff and the kindergarten through 3rd grade staff, some of those meetings ... we took an entire year of planning in order to make that staff cohesive and help make it work in one building. So some of the struggles have been with the pre-K students being out in the portables since there’s not, say, a faculty room or a place in the hall where teachers can catch up. But I feel like we’ve done our best with the teacher socials and assemblies to help make everyone into one cohesive staff. That’s always been one of our goals.”

Along with the changes in the overall Liberal community, the school itself also saw some changes in the many years it has been open. 

“I look back to the year we were a cohesive staff and we all worked together, and we went through a period where an administrator wasn’t really here on this site, they were at a different site,” Mettlen said. “So we kind of went back to our corners, and then we came together again as a staff, and that’s been the goal since Ms. Downs and I have been here, to make that cohesive staff.”

“I would actually say the same, because now you see smaller kids than you are, and it’s about like seeing a younger version of when I was here,” Luis added. 

“There have been so many changes,” Moody said. “It used to be mostly whites and black kids, and now it’s more Hispanic, and we have to learning English at the preschool level, along with the other things we need to learn. The kids are great, we don’t want any of them to feel left behind or left out.”

And while there is a bittersweetness to the building closing, there is also an air of excitement about the new buildings set to open for the upcoming 2017-18 school year. 

“It’s great we’ll have the new, more modern facilities redesigned for students,” Downs said. “And I think everyone having like a modern stage area, or their own gym facility ... in the past we’ve had to share or borrow, and this way, everyone has new things to work with like new materials, new equipment, everything. It’s an open-minded approach to everything new – the schedules, the building layouts, everything. If we were given the freedom to explore and dream, now we can do that.”

“And in planning our schedules, I look at the creativity we’ve been allowed to express and work with, whereas in the past we’ve never really been given that opportunity,” Mettlen added. “It comes from the top down as teachers will be creating schedules and our leadership teams have been built. We’ve never really had the opportunity to just start over from scratch almost.”

Both Castillos also expressed their excitement.

“I’m going to be going to Seymour Rogers Middle School next year, and I think it’s going to be fun with all the space and how big it’s going to be,” Luis said. “I think it’ll be awesome.”

“It’s exciting. Like I said, it’s great to see Liberal growing, and the new schools are a way of showing that’s going on,” Anabel agreed. “It’s a sad ending, but a great new beginning.”

Overall, the new direction USD 480 is taking is likely to lead to some new adventures. 

“My favorite teacher ever was at this school, in 6th grade it was Mr. Irvin, and I think about all the classes I took every day,” Moody said. “It’s great, they need to have good schools to go to so they feel safe and secure and everything.”

“My favorite thing about Washington has been the staff. We talked earlier about the climate and culture,” Downs added. “The people here, you wouldn’t know what they were teaching unless you had their room assignment because everyone here works together and comes together and pitches in. It’s more a family than a staff, and it’s been one of my best in the years I’ve been in education.”




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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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