The New School Really Feels Like a Good Thing
“They shouldn’t want for anything,” said 98-year-old Jane Carey after her first tour of the new Wyalusing Valley Elementary School on Aug. 22. The former Camptown Elementary School teacher, who made a point of letting me know that she had enjoyed having my uncle, Tom Hiduk, and his children in her classes up to her retirement in 1978, indicated that she was nearly overwhelmed by the size and scope of the consolidated school, which will bring the Camptown area students together with those from the former Laceyville, New Albany, and Wyalusing elementary schools on a daily basis.
The open house celebration at the new building was surely designed to create excitement about the new school, the idea of which was not popular with a large number of district residents when it was proposed or while the building was being constructed. It appeared that the event met its goal and then some. It provided a reassurance for parents, grandparents, and students that working together and making sacrifices is the way to achieve great things.
In June, the Rocket-Courier made a point of highlighting each of the former elementary schools separately as students, faculty, and family members prepared to bid farewell to their respective alma maters and closed the doors for the last time. There was a lot of emotion expressed in those stories—a combination of sadness, pride, anxiety, and even some denial. In the spring, it was still very difficult for many people to believe and trust in those who had already embraced the concept of consolidation. It was hard to imagine that anything could adequately replace their hometown schools.
No doubt, each of the buildings was a special place to the students and the community it served. Although I attended school in Towanda, I was often at the Camptown and New Albany buildings on weekends for penny socials and school programs. The sense of community was surely different from anything I experienced while attending three of Towanda’s elementary schools, all of which were within the borough. I’m sure that my memories of dropping numbered tags into paper cups at Camptown to win a deck of cards or soaking my head on a cold autumn night to bob for apples at one of New Albany’s Halloween parties pale in comparison to what most of the residents here have experienced through the years, but can understand that those are memories that the former pupils and teachers who made their way through those schools will forever cherish.
Rep. Tina Pickett impressed me on Monday evening with her personal reflections of being a participant in the Wyalusing Area School District’s last great consolidation, when supervising principal Max P. Gannon, for whom the district’s campus is named, formed the school district in the early 1950s and spearheaded the construction of the consolidated Wyalusing Valley High School. Pickett was one of many students in the area who started her education in a one- or two-room schoolhouse before moving to one of the newer buildings.
While she acknowledged the difficulty that some residents have had in giving up the identity of the smaller, community-oriented schools, she recalled the excitement that was the reality of the consolidation of which she was a part. “I loved that one-room school,” Pickett told those in attendance, “But it was so much fun to go into that new school and see everything that it had to offer.”
Wisdom gained in hindsight of truly emotional events can be a powerful tool, and Pickett really hit the nail on the head. I think that the parents felt it too as they shook hands with and greeted old friends with whom they were likely much closer in days gone by. While the students’ emotions don’t parallel that of their parents in situations like these, they can sense and are affected by what their parents are feeling.
The smiles on the faces of almost everybody in attendance on Monday night were indicative of a very good vibe that was building among the open house participants. Within four years, I suspect that the initial concerns over longer bus rides, less personal attention from teachers, and the significant cost of the construction of Wyalusing Valley Elementary School will be overshadowed by the realization that the whole district came together as one, which will afford opportunities and an equality to every student on day one that is not always the case in consolidation efforts.
“It won’t be hard to fall in love with this school,” Pickett stated. By the end of the evening, I think that most of those in attendance believed that to be true.