Tag Archives: Plank North Elementary

Going back to school — sort of

3 Sep

This has been a very weird start to the new school year for me.

The first day of school for students isn’t until Wednesday, but teachers and support staff were already back all last week, setting up their classrooms, reconnecting with their colleagues, and basically preparing mentally and physically for another unusual school year.

But I’m not there.

Having retired from my job as a library teaching assistant from the district in June, I’m watching from the sidelines for the first time in 20 years. It’s definitely a little weird, and a little sad. But thanks to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, I’ve been able to vicariously enjoy those back-to school meetings and strategy sessions.

I saw photos from State Road Elementary School, for example, where staff members held their opening circle outside in the parking lot and playground. Facebook photos from Plank North showed all of my former colleagues clumped up in very familiar discussion groups. Some schools are posting their staff photos, where everyone is packed on risers and clearly grinning broadly behind their masks with opening-day excitement. Others, like Webster Schroeder, had their teachers hold personalized signs indicating how long they’d been in the district.

I even got a special invitation several days ago from Schlegel Elementary School principal Francine Leggett to join my former colleagues when they took a field trip on Wednesday to Jack’s Place playground in Webster Park to explore and reflect upon this year’s theme of “We are crew.”

In short, the idea of “being crew” is that everyone (students and staff) is working together towards the same goal, helping each other achieve and be successful. On their field trip this week, teachers and support staff actually took an important first step toward connecting with their student community by taking a bus ride through every one of the neighborhoods the school serves, before arriving at the playground.

I don’t miss all the meetings, but it was nice to see many of my old colleagues in photos and on the playground. Here are a few photos from that day at the park.

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A few personal WCSD staff notes

24 Jun

I’d like to extend my congratulations and best wishes to my friend and Plank North colleague Heather Balsamo, the school’s outstanding assistant principal. A Plank North family member for 15 years, on July 1 Heather will begin a new position as UPK Administrator for the district.

Heather has been an integral part of the growth and development of the UPK program, and is the perfect person to fill this new position, as the district’s UPK program expands to all seven elementary schools.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Heather for the last five years. Her door was always open, she always made time to help out when you needed something, and she always respected her colleagues as unique individuals rather than just another staff member.

Heather will be sorely missed.


And now, a very personal note.

Yesterday marked my last day as a teaching assistant in the Webster Central School District. After 20 years — 15 at Webster Thomas and the last five split between Schlegel Rd. and Plank North — I am retiring.

I started my WCSD career almost by accident. My eldest daughter was in 8th grade at Thomas Middle School, and I came in one day as a volunteer to help out with a project. I was assigned to the library, where I helped students navigate some computer challenges.

The Thomas Middle School librarian, Trish Warren, liked how I worked with the kids and invited me to come back and volunteer at any time. Which I did. A lot. By the end of the school year, Trish and I had become good friends. She suggested I get myself established in the district and then apply for the library teaching assistant position at the new Thomas High School when it opened in 2001.

I was fortunate to land a position as a part-time Phys. Ed. teaching assistant at Plank North, where I worked for one year. The following year, as planned, I interviewed for and got the Thomas Library T.A. job, working again with Trish.

Trish and I worked together for 15 years. I enjoyed my time at Thomas very much and loved coming in to work every day. I grew very close to my collagues and fondly remember each and every one of them. Deep down, there is still — and forever will be — a part of me that will always be a Titan.

As I set my sights on retirement several years ago, however, I decided I wanted to finish my career in the elementary schools. So when a spot opened up for an elementary school library teaching assistant, I jumped at the chance. I was hired, splitting my week between Plank North and Schlegel elementary schools, a position I’ve held for the last five years.

Working in the elementary schools has been as much fun as I expected it to be. I’ve read picture books to preschoolers, dressed up as Gerald the Elephant (and a yam, a Butter Bear, a grandmother and a half dozen other characters) for read-alouds. I have played soccer and kickball, danced, painted, made crafts, played board games, and created some entertaining “races” for my colleagues. I’ve worked with three terrific librarians and have made so many good friends.

But mostly, I was able to play an important part in the lives of children at a time when they still love reading.

The time has passed much too quickly. I will miss the kids and my colleagues a lot. But rest assured, I will be returning to Plank North and Schlegel as a substitute, and probably a volunteer. Because I know I’m not going to be able to stay away from two of my favorite places in the world.

(And who knows when Gerald might need to make an appearance for a command performance of Elephant and Piggie.)

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A shout-out for some great teachers (part 2)

21 Jun

I’m pleased this morning to present Part 2 of my teacher shout-out series, highlighting some great teachers and the amazing job they did this year. (Scroll down the page a bit or click here to see Part 1.) I’ll post Part 3 — the final installment — tomorrow, so you still have time to get your submissions to me! Email me at missyblog@gmail.com.

(These passages have been edited only slightly for punctuation and grammar. The sentiments are otherwise unfiltered, and straight from the heart.)

I’m going to start with the only submission I got from a high school…


Providing the right tools for success

I would like to highlight Kristen Hubright, Earth Science teacher at Webster Thomas.

Mrs. Hubright spent an immense amount of time preparing take-home interactive lesson plans and recording video lessons that really helped my son, who is in her Integrated Co-Teach class, become more independent in his learning process. In fact, her science units were designed so well that he was able to work on them without any intervention on my part.

As a science educator myself, having varied resources to offer is an important key to turning out well prepared students. Being able to pause when needed to catch up with note taking, and being able to go back to help understanding are fantastic tools to offer to students across all levels, but especially to provide an equitable space for special ed learners.

— Jenny Hryhorenko

(photo courtesy LinkedIn)

Teaching is her passion

My name is Melissa Orr and my daughters (Arya & Teagan) go to State Rd Elementary. I want to Nominate Mrs. Smith (kindergarten teacher).

This is my second year with Mrs. Smith. My oldest daughter also had her and that was the year that I really got to know her and her love and passion for ALL of her students.

When my oldest started kindergarten, she was very shy and just wanted to be in her own bubble. Mrs. Smith quickly got down to her level and showed her how much fun it was to make friends and explore a whole new world. Now this year my youngest daughter has her and I was over the moon excited when she called me to tell me that she had her in her class! This year brought so many obstacles and challenges and I just wanted one thing familiar for her.

I don’t even know where to begin with her. Mrs. Smith has such an outgoing, fun, loving personality and she clicks and bonds with every single student that walks through her door. The way that the students look at her and she looks right back at them is enough to melt your heart. She connects with each student in her own way and makes her students feel like they are the most special in her class.

To this day my daughters come home from school to show me what they made Mrs. Smith! They talk about her all the time. Sometimes I think they think she is their playmate and not their teacher!!! Her way of teaching these little minds and getting down to their levels is absolutely magical. She takes pride in everything she does. She never gives up, never gets frustrated and most of all is always looking for the fun in everything she does and teaches. To hear my kids come home from school to say to us, look what Mrs. Smith taught me, or showed me, made me and my husband the proudest parents we could ever be.

Without Mrs. Smith none of this could be possible. Watching our daughters grow has been one of the best blessings we could ever ask for. This is why in the Orr household, we love and cherish Mrs. Smith!

— Melissa Orr

Jamie Palmer and friend

A great education is a team effort

We have a whole team to nominate and they are all a very important piece to our puzzle!

My daughter remained remote through out this school year and her whole team was absolutely amazing at working to keep the kids engaged and learning! Her team has worked so well with her that she has grown so much academically this year!

We wouldn’t be where we are without her teachers Erika Bellenger, Deena Fairchild, Marissa Echevarria, Jennifer Scalzo, Rachel Dolan, Lisa Freida, Megan Vos, Ms. Palmer and Mrs. Rosenberry. My child really grew to love reading this year and she absolutely beamed when it was time for Ms. Palmer’s March Madness and then the read-alongs. She was even excited when Mrs. Rosenberry would make an appearance on the screen as well!

We are so blessed to have such amazing teachers, therapists and librarians in our district!

— Kelly Clancy

Prepping young minds for kindergarten

I want to give a shout out to Joanna Sero, the UPK teacher at Klem North. She has worked so hard to make this year as normal as possible, and her efforts have definitely been appreciated. She provided regular communication about what’s happening in class, and posted pictures on Seesaw daily, showing us all the awesome things our son was doing with his new friends. She is so loving and supportive, and we really saw growth in our son this year. He is definitely ready for kindergarten, and she has spoiled us for all upcoming teachers.  

— Sandi Brindisi Johnville

Like an extension of the family

Amanda Plato

I wanted to give a huge thank you to Ms. Brayley and Miss Plato at Plank North for making this year so exceptional for our girls.

Miss Plato was the third teacher to step into this second grade classroom. She is and has been so extremely patient, loving, and kind. As a parent who truly values a child’s emotional well being (especially with the year we’ve had), she has brought so much joy into our daughter’s life. Thank you, Miss Plato!

Ms. Brayley provided a classroom environment that felt like a family. Ms. Brayley provided structure, routine, and a sense of normalcy. We are so thankful Ms. Brayley is available to listen (often times during recess) and have conversations with our daughter about life and activities outside of school. Thank you, Ms. Brayley!

We feel so fortunate to have had to amazing teachers for our daughters this year!

-Anonymous

Substitutes are great teachers, too

Julia had Jaime McKnight as her long-term sub for the first part of the year (at Klem North) while her current teacher, Kelly Wojciechowski was out on maternity leave. Both teachers have been absolutely wonderful both in the classroom and communicating with parents on the outside.

— Linda Meyers

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At the final bell, a shout-out for some great teachers

20 Jun

I think you’ll agree with me that our teachers are superheroes.

I mean, recall that a year ago March, on a week’s notice, they were asked to finish up the year by going completely online. Then came this school year, and they’ve had to juggle Covid restrictions, remote lessons, and half days or half weeks, all while doing their best to deliver as much learning and critical socialization as possible. And despite all those challenges, they’ve persevered and done an amazing job.

There’s been so much noise and bluster on social media recently about how our teachers have been sliding by. But most of us know the truth. Webster teachers are the best. So I wanted to counter all that noise with some of our own making. That’s why I asked parents to send me stories about some great teachers who have touched their childrens’ lives.

I’m pleased to present the first installment of that list today, and will post a second tomorrow. Feel free to continue to send me your stories (with a photo of the teacher if possible) and I’ll add them to the list!

(By the way, these passages have been edited only slightly for punctuation and grammar. The sentiments are otherwise unfiltered, and straight from the heart.)


Remote teaching excellence

Due to remote learning, I was able to see firsthand how awesome the Klem North music and band teachers are. 

Tiffany Polino has more passion and more energy than any teacher I’ve ever known. Her music classes are engaging, encouraging, and full of student participation. She states her CARE expectations in positive ways, always with a smile on her face. During one fifth grade session she asked the kids to name some topics they were interested in exploring. My son mentioned he was interested in learning how to play the guitar. So, Tiffany dedicated one session a week to the small “guitar cohort.” I was amazed she was willing to put aside her original plans to tailor lessons to student interest. 

Diana Mee eats, breathes, and sleeps her love of band instruments. She makes amazing assignments that go above and beyond the normal “practice your instrument for 20 minutes a day.” She also assigned songs based on student interest. My son learned how to play Disney songs for his little sister and Taps to commemorate Memorial Day.

Diana encourages students to email her with questions and responds to the emails right away. She always speaks positively and sought ways to engage her band students even though they could not play together in person during remote learning. 

Both of these teachers are doing an amazing job at promoting a love of the arts in Webster. 

— Courtney King

A heartfelt mid-year welcome

Barbara Sykut is my twins’ third grade teacher at Plank South! We bought a house here in November and they joined her class in the midst of the year. She was so happy to have them and has been absolutely amazing! She is retiring after this year and we feel so lucky to have had her before she leaves.

Thanks for everything Ms. Sykut!

— Skylar Bethany

Making kids the priority

I have a son who attends fifth grade at State Rd. During the pandemic he was remote. When Webster announced schools would be opening we got word he may have to attend a different school. My son Richy was scared and wanted to stay remote if that was to happen. The principal (Christine Noeth-Abele) said she was trying to get all the kids back and would do her best. She’s awesome.

Then I found out that a teacher was coming back from retirement just to help out. Mrs. Feeley. She is amazing. She came back just for the kids and to make sure they were able to attend their home school. I am so grateful and so is Richy. She has been awesome making sure they get what they need and making sure the extra things they were missing being remote were taken care of. She makes snacks for the kids and is always kind and Richy tells me he wished he had her since day one.

That’s a great teacher to come back from retirement to just help out the kids.

— Nikki Johnson

One classroom, two great teachers

My son Tanner is in kindergarten at Schlegel in Miss Eckert’s class.

Miss Eckert

Miss Eckert and Miss Goodness, the TA, have been absolutely amazing.Tanner has had a hard time adjusting to school and has had a really hard time managing his emotions and understanding what is appropriate at school. Both of these incredible women have gone above and beyond to help Tanner and make his kindergarten experience positive.

All school year, Miss Eckert and Miss Goodness supported Tanner in his journey and tried many different things to help with his behaviors. It takes a very strong, companionate, determined, and patient person to work with these small children and help them learn new routines and manage emotions and just show them how to feel good about themselves and the people around them. We were so lucky to have two of those people this year. They never gave up on Tanner and I am so grateful for them.

— Caira Kinnear

Providing stability during a difficult year

I would like to recognize Brianne Cipura at Klem North who chose to teach a grade level she never taught before in order to loop to first grade with her kindergarteners. By volunteering to stay with these kids, she gave parents peace of mind entering this bizarre school year. Regardless of what choices administration made, we knew her class would be a welcoming and safe place for our kids.

My family is very grateful for her.

— Kelly Prato

Over and above during shutdown

My daughter Gabriella wants to send a shout out to her fourth grade teacher from last year (at Klem South).

Elizabeth Karlof Coene was able to build and sustain relationships with her students that transcended the COVID-19 school closure, and certainly went above and beyond to ensure that my daughter felt that connection before, during, and after the shutdown. She is a treasure!

(The photo is Mrs. Coene with Gabriella at the beginning of fourth grade.)

— JoAnna Joy

Finally, this submission from a student

Mrs. Dupont is the best teacher. She lives near me and she plays with us at school. I like seeing her at soccer. I like that she teaches me everything.

-Raelyn (plank north kindergartener)


Part 2 of my teacher shout-out series will be posted tomorrow. Please continue to send me your submissions (with pictures if possible), and I will keep posting them as long as I get them!

Email me at missyblog@gmail.com

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On ducklings and merry-go-rounds

6 May

Today I bring you a short tale about a young Plank North family, a bully, and resilience.

The central characters of our story are Mama and Papa Duck. For at least ten years now, these two mallards (we assume they’re the same two) have been returning every spring to Plank North Elementary School to build their nest.

They usually choose a different location on the school grounds every year to settle down. Twice they’ve nested near the second grade classrooms on the west side of the building, once under the pear tree by the receiving doors, and once in front of the office window. One year they even made their nest on the school’s roof, which became obvious when staff members saw the ducklings jumping off the roof one day.

Second grade teacher Sheila O’Hanlon has kind of become the ducks’ overseer, keeping an eye out for them every year, and making sure everyone knows where they are so students don’t get too near the nest and spook Mama and Papa.

“It’s always about this time of year” that the ducks return, Sheila said. “The eggs take about 28 days to mature, and they usually stay for a few days until the babies are big enough to waddle off. We think they head down Scribner to a little pond by the side of the road.”

Sure enough, about three weeks ago, Mama and Papa Duck returned, this time tucking their nest under the merry-go-round on one of the school’s playgrounds. As soon as the new nest was discovered, staff members put up signs and yellow warning tape to keep kids away.

For a couple of weeks, Mama could be seen every day sitting on her nest, protecting what we all suspected was a clutch of eggs.

Then, one day, a fox was spotted on the school grounds. Not long after that, Mama and Papa Duck were gone and the nest was empty.

For a while the ducks were nowhere to be seen. But recently, we saw Mama and Papa again, exploring the school grounds. The nest is still empty, but at least the young parents are still around. We all hope they’ve made another nest somewhere, better hidden from Mr. Fox. Maybe it’s down by that little pond.

In any case, we fully expect these resilient young parents to return again next year to raise an adorable family of fluffy ducklings. Perhaps they should go back to the roof…..

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Schlegel and Plank North staff members are running around the Great Lakes!

28 Mar

Well, not really. They’re talking virtually running, and it’s actually only around Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. But still, it’s a pretty big challenge.

The event is being called the “Tour Around the Lakes,” a virtual race designed to promote teamwork and community, while encouraging everyone to get out and exercise and have a little fun.

The idea is based on the many virtual distance races that have been organized during the pandemic. In those, racers would track their daily miles over a period of several weeks in an effort to travel a pre-determined route — like, for example, from Yankee Stadium to Fenway Park or around the Ring of Kerry. For the Tour Around the Lakes, over the next 11 weeks, racers — working in teams of seven or eight — will try to log enough miles by running, walking or cycling to virtually circumnavigate Lakes Ontario and Erie, a distance of 1100 miles. Progress will be updated every week on the Tour Around the Lakes bulletin boards posted at each school.

The race began last Monday and will continue through June 11. Schlegel Rd. Elementary is fielding six teams, and Plank Rd. North has four. The competition was fierce from the start. It started heating up even before the race started when word got out that bonus points were being handed out for the first teams to come up with team names and photos. The schools will not be competing against each other, but only within their buildings … or at least that’s the plan right now. (An inter-school rivalry might be an extra incentive, however.) I expect much trash-talking will ensue.

The team names already show how much fun everyone is having. The Schlegel teams are Sole Sisters, Fueled by Caffeine, Chicks With Kicks, Ready for Anything, Not Fast Just Furious, and Are We There Yet? At Plank North the teams are Green and Bold, Sore Today, Strong Tomorrow, Heart and Sole, and Get Me an Uber.

The Tour Around the Lakes is similar to an event both schools participated in last spring, a virtual relay. For that challenge, everyone who wanted to take part first signed up for a half-hour relay “leg.” Then on one day April, you would run, walk or bike during your appointed time, and “hand off” the virtual baton to the next relay participant via a text or phone call.

It was a great way to keep staff members connected after the schools shut down in March. Everyone had a terrific time and appreciated having an excuse to get outside and get a little exercise. This year’s Tour Around the Lakes should be no different.

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Were you at Plank North in 1976? You’re in this time capsule.

18 Oct
The time capsule was actually a large Thermos cooler.

Do you remember 1976? Happy Days was one of the most popular shows on TV. A first-class stamp cost 13 cents. The $2 bill was introduced with great fanfare. Ross Willink was Webster School District’s superintendent.

And, of course, 1976 was the year of our nation’s bicentennial. It was probably that fact in particular which motivated Plank North Elementary School to create a time capsule, filled with items depicting world events, school life and pop culture of the time.

The school chose to “plant” its time capsule — actually a large, red, white and blue Thermos cooler — on June 14, 1976, where the event took center stage at the annual Flag Day ceremony. Each class had chosen a different object to include in the capsule. The objects were presented one at a time, along with an explanation of why each had been chosen.

Some of the more than two dozen items included in the time capsule. Click below to see a gallery of everything.

No one seems to know where the time capsule spent the next 25 years. But we do know that in 2001, on the appointed day, it was opened at a school-wide assembly to the delight of students and teachers alike.

That was not the end of its travels, however. Some time after that assembly, the time capsule found its way to the Webster Museum, where is has spent much of the last 19 years in the museum’s attic.

Last week, it came back home to Plank North again, courtesy Bill Schoff, a former Plank North second grade teacher, and currently a volunteer for the Webster Museum.

Schoff is part of the museum’s “attic and inventory” crew, who are working on clearing out a lot of stuff to make more space. When they came across the cooler, they thought Plank North would like it back, and perhaps share some of the items with today’s students.

Schoff was on staff at Plank North that day in 2001 when teachers and students gathered for the assembly to open the 25-year old time capsule.

He remembers, “When the poster of Fonzie was pulled out, we asked the kids if they knew who it was. One student replied, ‘One of the teachers?'” We adults got a kick out of that one.”

Sharing the cooler with the Fonzie posted was a TV Guide with Sonny and Cher on the cover, a Holly Hobbie doll, copies of the Democrat and Chronicle and the Webster Herald, and almost two dozen other items. Each class’s written description of their object was included in a folder with a class photo. And someone had compiled a scrapbook of playground photos, complete with captions.

I took photos of everything in the time capsule, so you can check them all out for yourself. CLICK HERE to see that photo gallery.

Please feel free to share this blog with anyone you know who attended or taught at Plank North back then (I was out of town, graduating high school). And if you have any stories to share about the assembly or the time capsule, drop me a line!

It’s very interesting to read the explanations of why each object was chosen and what children thought the world would look like in 2001.

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Things are looking good this COVID school year

3 Oct

So we’ve made it to October.

We’re several weeks into the new school year and things — at least from my perspective — are going pretty well.

I’m sure I’m not the only one pleasantly surprised that we’ve gotten this far before having to shut down again due to the virus. I credit that success to the behaviors I have seen in the two elementary schools I work at.

When classes move through the halls, often times the children have their hands out in front of them to maintain social distancing. They are paying attention to the little spots on the floor which tell them where to stand when they’re waiting in line for the restroom. They don’t seem to mind sitting widely spaced from their friends while they’re in their room.

But I’m particularly impressed by the way young students have come to accept the need to wear masks.

The teachers have done a wonderful job making the need for masks seem normal, incorporating it into their class songs and bulletin boards. I haven’t heard about any pushback from the students about the masks (even though the pre-K and kindergarten kiddoes often have to be reminded to pull it up over their noses). Clearly, putting on a mask for school has become as normal for them as bringing their backpack. (Thank you also to parents for supporting that!)

There have been some rough spots, of course. Elementary school arrival and dismissal procedures were rather inefficient for the first week or so as schools tried to streamline their procedures for the large number of children being dropped off and picked up by parents. But things seem to be running pretty smoothly now, allowing teachers their maximum opportunity to be with their morning and afternoon classes.

I understand that accommodating the large number of remote students at the middle and high school levels has also been a challenge which we’re still trying to work through.

Most definitely this year has dealt some very real difficulties to our Webster CSD families, especially those with very young children. But, given the circumstances, I think everyone is doing the best they can.

We just have to keep doing that for as long as we need to. We will weather this storm together.

Schlegel Elementary School staff members rocking their masks for a group photo on opening day.

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The best gifts a teacher could ask for

9 Sep
Plank North Principal “Mr. B” greets a young student

“This is like Christmas Day, and the presents are going to keep coming until 3:00.”

That’s the way Plank North Elementary School Principal Craig Bodensteiner put it yesterday morning, as he greeted students arriving for the school’s pre-opening-day meet-and greet, a chance for the kids to drop off some supplies and check in with their new teachers.

That feeling was evident in room after room as teachers enthusiastically welcomed their students back into their classrooms. You could almost feel the entire school heave a huge sigh of happiness as rooms were — finally — filled with laughter and chatter once again.

Some of Plank North’s youngest students check out their new kindergarten room.

As Plank North Assistant Principal Heather Balsamo said, “We’ve been waiting for this day since March 16.”

Teacher and student smiles were so big, they almost burst through the masks. Clearly the students were as excited as the teachers to be back.

Things are going to be different this year, in so many ways. But one main thing will not have changed: how much our teachers and staff members love our students, and how dedicated they are to making sure every single one gets a quality education this fall, whether they’re in a classroom or studying remotely.

Plank North’s kindergarten students even got a chance to check out a school bus during their visit.

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Plank North celebrates their fifth graders

7 Jun

Much like our high school seniors, Webster’s fifth graders are losing out on a lot of celebration as they near the end of this school year.

Normally these last few weeks of fifth grade would be filled with awards ceremonies, field days and parties. But of course nothing like that can happen this year thanks to the pandemic. So elementary schools across the district are coming up with creative ways to celebrate our fifth graders’ achievements. On Friday night, Plank North Elementary did that by hosting a fifth grade parade through the bus loop.

Staff members spread out along the entire length of the bus loop with banners, flags and decorated cars, and welcomed students and their families with big waves and cheers as they drove through the bus loop. (Most of the families decorated their cars for the celebration as well.) Upon reaching the front of the building, “graduating” fifth grader received awards and gifts from the school, and wished good luck as they head off to Spry Middle School.

Clearly the teachers enjoyed the evening as much of the kids. Even under all the masks they were wearing, you could tell that the staff members’ grins were a mile wide.

Here are some photos from the evening:

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