Coming back to school to say goodbye

Although they’re saying goodbye and closing the doors of Sheridan Elementary School next month, it was far from a sad occasion Saturday as hundreds gathered to mark the school’s 100th birthday, taking part in tours and reminiscing by sharing lasting memories.

“Today’s a celebration,” said Williamsport Area School District Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Kelley as the neighborhood school at 915 Sheridan St. opened its doors to parents, present-day and former staff and students as part of “Come Home to Sheridan” from 1 to 5 p.m., which included the Parent Teachers Organization’s “Spring Fling.”

“You can feel the love and caring and know this is a safe place to learn,” Kelley said. “It’s an intangible feeling and one can’t put a finger on it but you know it’s there.”

While it didn’t officially become part of the Williamsport Area School District until 1923, its role in the community has remained steadfast – through its many physical changes – and as a neighborhood home for educating children over a century.

From the principal, Paul Daniels, to the caring and devoted teaching staff, and a community of parents and students, it wasn’t difficult to see how the school was a great place for elementary-aged children to be educated.

The mood inside was celebratory as Daniels held up a small plant given to him by students, probably taken from a neighbor’s shrubbery, but, nonetheless, thought of with heartfelt appreciation by the retiring principal.

He laughed about possibly still having a little icing on his mouth from the homemade cupcakes students baked him.

Beth Lyons, a fifth-grade teacher, nearly broke down in emotion recalling a school that builds friendships, creates unforgettable memories and has become a family that shares love.

For Cecelia Ferguson, a first-grade student, the school was where she first learned to do math and to read – while getting nutritious breakfasts and lunches.

“It’s not about the things we have, it’s the memories we have,” said Pam Jensen, president of the Parent Teacher Organization, quoting a phrase most associated with the television show, Antiques Roadshow.

Jensen said many a day she would witness teachers hugging children, or slipping them money when they went on a field trip and stopped by a gift shop.

But, while the teachers are dispersing, Jensen called on the education community to shift that energy forward wherever it goes.

Also helping to guide visitors through the day were fourth- and fifth-grade students who conducted tours of the building amid displays of the school’s history, newspaper clippings and headlines and photographs spanning a century.

Sheridan T-shirts were sold to fundraise for the school’s Orville W. Mitstifer Award, so that Sheridan students can continue receiving a scholarship through the Class of 2025. Mitstifer taught at Sheridan from 1923 through 1954.

Mitstifer’s granddaughter, Romy Young, honored her grandfather’s memory, encouraging the people in attendance to never forget the legacy that lives on.

She spoke about the school history, based on research, saying before construction of the school, children from the area attended Lloyd’s Addition School, a four-room building on the southeast corner of Sherman and Sheridan streets. Each room had one aisle and pupils sat four to a row on either side. If a pupil next to the wall wanted to leave, the others in the row had to stand up so he could shove by, she said.

Today, the Mitstifer award is given each year to graduating male and female students, who attended the school and who carried the highest grade point average and have been accepted to college.

One of the most treasured pieces raffled was a student-made quilt. “The students sent authors a square fabric patch for them to sign or draw on for the quilt,” said Sheridan teacher Julie Bittner.

At the end of the school year, Sheridan will close its doors one last time. About 275 students attended during the 2012-13 school term.

Kelley said the transition should be considered a new beginning and while a building is closing, the people inside aren’t leaving, just relocating.

In fact, the district plans opening of a new middle school next year as part of the changing landscape for the district as a whole, she said.

Round Hills and Sheridan elementary schools are scheduled to close next month, and different grade configurations will be implemented. Students in kindergarten to third grade primary schools will be going to Cochran, Hepburn-Lycoming, Jackson and Stevens schools. Those in fourth-through-sixth grade intermediate schools will be at Curtin and Lycoming Valley schools.

Seventh- and eight-grade middle school classes will be Williamsport Area Middle School, scheduled to open in August, and those in ninth through 12th grades will be at the Williamsport Area High School, according to Kelley.

Despite Sheridan closing, the school community – including administration, school board, faculty, parents, PTO and students – chose to celebrate its history.

Behind each speaker Saturday and displayed on a wall was the Dr. Seuss quote in large letters: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”