As the school year drew to a close for the Muscatine Community School District, the end meant something a little different to the students, staff, and families of one elementary school.
Washington School held an open house on May 19 to celebrate the impact that the school has had on the community in the past 43 years. Due to a declining enrollment trend over the past several years that is projected to continue for several more, Washington will close its doors at the end of the 2015-2016 school year.
Principal Brian Walthart has been at Washington for six years. He explained how the ending of each year is bittersweet in its own way.
Walthart says the open house was planned as a way to celebrate Washington and to help students and families focus on the fun and relationships that have come from being together in the building. Throughout the event, current and past students could be seen talking with faculty and staff from years past. The halls were lined with murals and posters proclaiming “Bobcat Pride,” “Bobcat Braniacs,” and “Once a Bobcat, always a Bobcat.”
The open house event was organized by the Parent-Teacher Organization of Washington. According to Walthart, the PTO awards a scholarship every year to a Washington alum, and the PTO plans to continue the tradition even after the school shuts its doors. The hope is to continue to provide the scholarships though at least the current fifth-grade class’s graduation, and hopefully through all of the grades, down to current kindergarteners. Meals were served at the open house by Hy-Vee, with a portion of the proceeds going to the scholarship fund.
Walthart says one of the traits of Washington that he will miss most is the feeling of family that has developed over the years. “I am amazed at the level of closeness that there is amongst the families, and between the families and the staff. I am really going to miss that.”
One testament to that closeness can be seen through the efforts of the PTO. While the bounce houses were open to the entire community in the evening, the students had a sneak peek. The large inflatables were on school grounds during the school day, allowing the children time to play and have fun. Walthart says it is all part of the PTO’s plan to emphasize good memories of the school.
All current Washington faculty and staff, along with current students, wore matching shirts for the open house. The front of the shirts declared, “Once a bobcat, always a bobcat,” while the back showed a large pawprint. The shirts for the current Washington family were purchased by the PTO as part of the send-off.
Though the decision to close the school was not a welcome one, Walthart says he knows how hard it was for the school board to make. He says that upon hearing the news, the general feeling among the teachers was to keep a positive attitude and keep an eye on the big picture.
A time capsule was buried in 1998 to commemorate the 25 year anniversary of the school. Items from the capsule were on display at the open house. Included in the items from the capsule were crafts, pictures, and even a t-shirt. Other items suffered water damage while in the capsule.