If you've been reading this particular series on this blog you'll notice that I've gone from A Lifetime of Elementary Schools -- Part 2, to A Lifetime of Elementary Schools -- Part 6. I hope the reason for the jump will be clear in a moment...
Our oldest daughter entered Harlan Elementary's kindergarten in the fall of 1977. From that date on, someone from our family was attending Harlan as either a student, a teacher or a volunteer for the next 34 years. All three of our children attended Harlan from grades K through 6, my wife and I both volunteered there at one point or another, and I taught there for the last 19 years of my career.
On June 10, 2011 Harlan students left for summer vacation for the last time. No students will be returning in the fall...no teachers will be coming in during the summer to get things ready or get a head start on their new curriculum. Students will be going to four different locations for the 2011-2012 school year depending on where they live and what grade they're in. Harlan Elementary School, along with 3 others in East Allen County Schools is closing forever because of a budget shortfall of about 8 million of dollars.
I started teaching at Harlan in August 1991. My first assignment at Harlan was 6th grade. Before coming to Harlan I had taught grades K through 4...never students as old as 6th grade. I had difficulty with 6th grade, but with a lot of help from other teachers and the principal (emotional support as well as pedagogical help) I had a successful year. My teaching partner in 6th grade, who retired this year after 34 years at Harlan, was a great help and likely worked as hard helping me adjust to teaching adolescents as he did teaching his own students.
I taught second grade for two years and then moved to a pull out program teaching students who were having difficulty in the general education classroom. My job included helping students with class work, planning programs for students who were not able to keep up, and testing students to see where their strengths and weaknesses were.
In 1998 my job became two jobs. I continued with the pull out program, and began a career as a Reading Recovery teacher. I enjoyed Reading Recovery...it was hard, gratifying work. I taught both my groups of students for seven years, after which the Reading Recovery program was canceled due to funding issues.
In 2005, the year after my Reading Recovery position was cut, I began teaching a half time kindergarten...a grade I had not taught for nearly 30 years. In the intervening years, kindergarten had changed dramatically. Once again the teachers I worked with provided assistance. This time I needed help with curriculum. Ironically, the teacher who helped me the most had been a 6th grade student in another classroom at Harlan the year I struggled in 6th grade.
The half time kindergarten position only lasted one year and I finished my career teaching half time...just the pull out program. I loved working with individuals and small groups. It gave me the opportunity to help students who were struggling in their classrooms, just as I had been when I was a student at Rogers School in Chicago.
As a parent I was more than satisfied with the quality of education my children received at Harlan. The teachers were caring and effective and all made it clear that they were willing to do what needed to be done to provide my children with the support and tools they needed to succeed.
As a teacher this opinion didn't change. Getting to know the staff I was able to see strengths in teachers I hadn't seen before. I was able to recognize the depth of dedication present in the classrooms.
It's hard to say good-bye to a school filled with so many memories of my own children as students, of my classrooms and students, and of staff members, many of whom I now count as close friends. A teaching career is filled with memories like those...as well as laughter, frustrations, successes and failures.
The success of Harlan Elementary was not in its location, facilities, playground or classrooms. Those things are important of course...the clean classrooms and rest rooms, the meals in the cafeteria, the safe playground and spacious gymnasium. Those are all important parts of a school and I don't intend to minimize the consequences of not providing a physically safe environment and an atmosphere conducive to learning. Adequate facilities, however, can (and should) be available everywhere a school building is constructed. Harlan's success, however, was built on more than its physical structure. It was built on the hard work and dedication of hundreds of professional educators and staff members who provided a rich, educational atmosphere in which students could grow and learn. It was built on the strength of parents who worked with the staff to provide their children with the education every child deserves. And it was built on the children themselves who brought their hope of a bright future into their classrooms and gave life to a structure of concrete and carpet.
When our oldest was in school each child would go to the office on their birthday and receive a small gift. She often told me that she was happy to get the "birthday pencil" on which was printed:
"Harlan Elementary: A Super School"