In New Albany, Residents Lament Loss of School, Acknowledge Gains
Guests of New Albany Elementary School’s (NAES) last Spring Fling open house, which was held on June 3, smiled about the memories they have of the building, which opened in November 1961, but they got a little melancholy when they thought about what the little town will lose when all of the children are bused to the new Wyalusing Area Elementary School and Junior/Senior High School next fall.
“I think that it will affect the community greatly,” said retired head teacher Eloise Corson, who prepared a brief history of the school that demonstrates that the students and faculty have weathered the ebb and flow of growth and cutbacks for the 50 years that the building served New Albany. “It has been the center of many activities,” she added. Corson taught fourth and sixth grade at the school before becoming head teacher, a position from which she retired 14 years ago. According to the notes that she compiled, the 1961 building was maxed out immediately and several additions over the years couldn't keep up with the growing needs of the students and the instructors.
With that in mind, the eight teachers who will follow the students to Wyalusing for the next school year are looking forward to the space that the new building will offer, as well as state-of-the-art technologies that will provide new opportunities for the pupils that might never have been realized had they stayed where they are now.
The small-town atmosphere allowed teachers “to be creative with their classes,” Corson related. During her years there, she recalled snow sculpting contests, a nature trail used as part of the curriculum, and trees planted in memory of lost students and teachers.
Lifetime New Albany resident and former PTG president Vida Williams has watched her children and grandchildren grow through the school. She remembers the dedication ceremony, when the public came to see the halls and classrooms brightened by glass block ceilings (that were found to leak during heavy rains and had to be built over). She recalls with a chuckle that, right after the dedication event, she backed her car into one of the new light poles in front of the school.
“We were like a family,” said retired fourth- and sixth-grade teacher Mike Fox. “I enjoyed coming to work every day.” As a member of the faculty from 1969 to 2009, Fox also had an opportunity to educate children of former students. “I loved conferences when the parents came back whom we used to teach,” he noted with a laugh. “It was interesting to see what kind of parents they had become and to remind them of how they acted in school.”
New Albany residents Jule and Angela Burke have three children in the school. While the father joked that his son Julian’s favorite class has always been recess, Angela acknowledged that, while her children have much to gain from attending a newer school, they will be smaller faces in a larger crowd.
“It’s kind of sad,” she remarked. “The new school is going to be so big. Our kids kind of bring us all together. I think we’re going to miss a lot of community things when this school is gone.”
Corson related that extracurricular activities such as T-ball have already moved to Wyalusing, but she wonders where social events such as those sponsored by the fire company will be held in the future. The flat school grounds have also been used numerous times to life-flight injured people via helicopter to regional hospitals.
Although NAES students like fifth-graders Bridgit Smith and Sarah Bird insist that they do not want to go to the new school, their teacher, Katrina McMahon, expects them to assimilate to the new building more easily than the teachers themselves.
“They’re going to be in awe of their new surroundings,” she suggested. “I’ve seen the new building, and it’s gorgeous. I think that it will be a positive experience, but I will miss my blackboard.”
“Kids always adjust,” Fox agreed.
The open house was designed to bring together students, staff, and citizens one more time, and laughter reigned on the playground as the 125 students took turns in an inflated bounce castle, enjoyed watermelon and other treats, played games like bowling and ring the soda bottle, and took part in hula hoop and pie-eating contests. The hallways were adorned with old photographs and other mementos, which parents casually perused as the children enjoyed the outdoor activities.
In addition to Fox, longtime faculty members who attended the event included Cheryll Renshaw, who taught kindergarten, second, and third grade between 1969 and 2004, and Linda Abrams, who served as a secretary and teachers’ aide from 1975 through this year.
At the end of the day, most of the children and parents, as well as some of the teachers, walked home across an arched-footbridge over the headwaters of Towanda Creek that was built especially for the school in 1961. And, although sixth-grader Allison Newhart would have moved on to junior high school next year whether or not the building was closing, she said, “This school was so much fun, and I loved all the teachers. I’m going to miss it.”