‘I’m from West’ – carnival reveals developing identity

Helped by his dad Justin, West Elementary first-grader Hunter Trolle tries out the gym climbing wall during the first-year school's initial carnival Feb. 5. Other activities were in the cafeterias and classrooms.
Westside Pioneer photo

Inside the gym during the first-ever West Elementary carnival... Kindergartener Cayden Peterson fires up the skeeball while second- grader Garrett Weddle and fourth-grader Marissa Swindull wait their turns.
Westside Pioneer photo
       West Elementary had its first-ever carnival Feb. 5. To the casual observer, it was just a fun event for several hundred people that included a range of games, prizes and food.
       But to school staffers, the carnival signified something bigger - a sense of the first-year school shaping an identity. “The kids aren't saying 'I'm from Buena Vista,' or 'I'm from Whittier' or 'I'm from Washington' anymore,” related third-grade teacher Cathy Houin. “They're saying, 'I'm from West.'”
       She was referring to the three schools that closed and whose former students (primarily those from Washington and Whittier) now make up the bulk of the 300- student West Elementary enrollment.
       So it's hardly a surprise that two former Whittier teachers - Houin and second-grade teacher Denise Gutierrez - joined with first-grade teacher Angel Chavez (formerly of Washington) to work up plans for West Elementary's first carnival effort. They did have parent support - including donations beforehand (mainly 2-liter bottles for the ring-toss game) and several folks who showed up at the event and offered help out of nowhere - but a full-blown parent-teacher organization (PTO) is still in the forming stages.
       “There was limited time for planning,” Gutierrez said. “We're trying to get the PTO going.”
       “We just tried to do the best we could, then see what we can come up with next year,” Houin said. “It was fun to brainstorm ideas with the Washington people.”
       “It was really just the three of us,” Chavez said. “We figured we'd either flop or do great.”
       The bottom line would seem to indicate the latter. Primarily from ticket sales, the event made a total of $2,038. The money will be earmarked for different field trips and ribbons for track day, Chavez said. A plus going in was that the previous PTO's from Whittier and Washington had some carry-over funds (totalling about $1,500) when West Elementary started, and money from that ($876) was used to buy prizes for the Feb. 5 carnival.

Inside the gym during the first-ever West Elementary carnival... Westside Optimist Club members donated then served hotdogs, chips and soft drinks to ticket-holders throughout the 2 1/2-hour event. Club members in the picture are (from left) Al Shea, Doris Hendrix, Marty Michelfelder, Amy Lee, Ernie Michelfelder and Theresa Null.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The event mainly followed the “Whittier model,” as Principal Terry Martinez called it. This meant lots of games (23 in all), including several that had been hand-made by previous Whittier parents (including the skeeball, gutter races and jail). Activities could be found in the gym, both cafeterias and classrooms. Some of the most popular were the cake walk, face painting, ring toss and interactive Wii games.
       A big boost was the Westside Optimist Club, which had long ago adopted Washington School and has now followed its students to West. The group provided hotdogs and soft drinks, with donated food and volunteer servers.
       Even some of the West Middle School students helped at the event - about 20 from the Honor Society, recruited by Principal Clay Gomez at the teachers' request. And Houin's own People of Praise service group provided manpower as well.
       No one had an exact total of attendees. “There were hundreds,” Martinez said. “At any given time [during the 2 ½ hours], you could look around and see one to two hundred people.”
       But best of all was the sense of a school uniting, as the teachers described it. “We needed that here,” Houin said. “It's been difficult to start a new school from scratch.” Added Chavez: “It brought the whole community together.”

Inside the gym during the first-ever West Elementary carnival... Parent volunteer Troy Schwarzenberger (left) supervises as fifth-grader Alia Bobo lets loose in the football toss.
Westside Pioneer photo

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