Ceremonies, parties help adjustment to new school plan

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Among the roughly 200 at the open house/barbecue for the new Westside Elementary May 18 were several of its future staffers: From left, at table: Ann Yenne and Ginny Beaudreau (standing), Maria Gutierrez and Jean Wittich (all from Washington); and Cathy Houin, Mary Ann Miller, Jeff Gorman, Julie Walker, Anne Shargell and Jane Malmquist (all from Whittier).
Westside Pioneer photo
       Three farewells and one hello.
       Four recent gatherings - partly serious and even tearful, partly casual and even fun - underscored the coming changes in Westside elementary schools.
       At Whittier, 108 helium balloons lifted in the air May 15 to signify the number of years it had existed at 2904 W. Kiowa St. before the closure that will end the streak this week. “It's making a flower,” said second-grader Veronica Yanez, as she watched the multi-colored orbs rise above the school.
       At Washington, 924 W. Pikes Peak Ave., a microphone was passed around the gymnasium May 16, and students, staff and parents talked about what the school had meant to them. Surprisingly, perhaps, many of the comments did not dwell on the closure itself but on hopes for the future at the new Westside Elementary that will be created inside the West Middle School building. “We'll still have the Wildcats [the school mascot] inside us,” pledged fourth-grader Alaura Lopez.
       At Pike, 2510 N. Chestnut St., May 16, Molly Worner, an original student at the 53-year-old school, projected old school photos on a screen while taking an audience of current and former students, staff and parents down memory lane. Recollections included a cafeteria in the hallway, a blizzard that closed school for five days in 1956, and her son Joe going there in 1986 and being taught by Gwen Robinson, who was still at the school this year.
       At West, 1920 W. Pikes Peak Ave., an open house/barbecue May 18 gave people an idea of what Westside Elementary will be like. To help break the ice, Principal Clay Gomez revealed that to reach out to the younger population inside the building next year (and to match future Westside Principal/ current Washington Principal Terry Martinez), he will sometimes wear ties adorned with Tigger or other cartoon characters instead of the more sedate business-professional designs he typically wears. “I could sing the Tigger song, but I don't want to do that right now,” he said, drawing laughter.

Although a few balloons accidentally took off a little early, 108 in all - commemorating the Whittier Elementary building's years of existence - rose to the sky during the school's farewell event May 15.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The last elementary school day this year is May 22. Whittier, Washington and Pike will no longer exist as elementaries after that. Whittier will be retrofitted this summer as the new home of the Bijou School (alternative high school). Washington will become the new home of the Buena Vista Montessori program. Pike will be unused, except possibly for storage; lease possibilities are being explored by School District 11.
       Each of the schools attracted several hundred people to their farewell events. Some alumni dated back as far as the 1930s. While children enjoyed the playgrounds, adults browsed through scrapbooks, looked for old classmates and teachers and checked out former school haunts. Ample amounts of food were supplied in all cases, and principals and staff were on hand to answer questions.
       Roughly 200, including future staffers, attended the May 18 open house. The Westside Elementary attendance area will take in all or parts of the areas for Buena Vista, Whittier and Washington. As at all District 11 schools, permits will be accepted from other attendance areas. Martinez and Gomez are estimating an August enrollment of 320 elementary and 275 middle school students.
       Based on seniority and/or preference, nearly all the staff will be from Washington or Whittier.

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