Reporter: Watching childhood schools close a sad affair

JAKOB RODGERS Updated: January 21, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: January 21, 2013

Longfellow Elementary School: That cozy place three blocks from home where I learned multiplication tables and foursquare.

East Middle School: A bulky brick building I greeted every morning from a big, yellow bus.

Wasson High School: My favorite — the place I played football, sat on student council and sported some wicked chops.

The first school closed, and then became a charter school.

The next closed. Then it re-opened under a new name

Now Wasson. The Trifecta. The last vestige of my childhood education — on track to suffer the same fate as nearly every other school I attended while growing up.

Burdened by declining enrollment amid lingering budget woes, the school represents a fading relic and the chance to save Colorado Springs School District 11 somewhere between $2.5 million and $2.7 million, likely less when including transportation costs.

It isn’t the only target. But it’s the one I grew to adore.

And as officials from District 11 once again mull closing my high school, I feel nothing but hollow sadness. I read the headlines, skim through each article and shrug.

This story’s been told too many times before.

***

Cardinal and grey still coat this school.

Images of Thunderbirds — that mythical creature inspiring awe in the hearts of many (mostly Marauders) — still pepper this place.

But none of my favorite teachers remain.

Harold Brown, the football coach? No longer on the sidelines. Stacy Strobel, student council advisor? Working elsewhere. Brett Derickson, history teacher? Ditto.

In 2009, amid already poor enrollment counts and punishing financial forecasts, the District 11 board debated closing Wasson. It held off — instead granting the school a five-year reprieve while the school underwent wholesale changes.

Had I lived in Colorado Springs at the time, I would have been right there, alongside my friends as they pleaded to keep the school open.

The memories were fresh.

A few years earlier, I ran into Garry Berry Stadium while helping resurrect a football program before hundreds of friends, family and fellow students.

I laughed at each homecoming event, Care and Share food drive and morning intercom announcement I worked on while on student council.

Admittedly, there were the countless naps I took in trigonometry class (sorry again, Mrs. Keating) and the day I learned about politics (free root-beer floats can secure any student council election).

I wrote my first newspaper articles for the “Thunderbolt” — then wondered what it would take to report full time.

And all along the way, there were caring teachers who did what good teachers do — move from lecturing to mentoring, instilling the values of hard work and humility along the way.

These days, the building still stands. I can still visit the classrooms, relive those memories.

But the people inside are all different.

And those departing faces signaled my last true connection to the school.

***

So how do I feel about these latest headlines? Numb sums it up.

Sure, I spent kindergarten and first grade at Henry Elementary School. But it’s easy to lose interest after watching District 11’s school board try once again to close yet another school of my childhood.

I mean, really: Two schools closed. A third in the cross hairs. Eleven years of my childhood education spent in schools that eventually closed.

(Yikes! When I say it like that...)

Or maybe it’s ambivalence I feel as we get closer and closer to the school board’s vote on Feb. 6.

Reading the desperate pleas of students asking for one more chance — for even that final year of the school board’s five-year promise to keep Wasson open — has been heartening. It was a bit of a surprise.

Nearly eight years since my last class at the school, it was stirring to hear that Wasson still makes a difference every day in the lives of hundreds of teenagers. It’s sad to think that might end.

But ultimately, I think I just feel frustrated.

When Longfellow and East closed, they changed from places I grew up into buildings I drove past.

If Wasson follows suit, I’ll feel the exact the same way.

I only wish that once the votes are tallied, we could finally get back to the bigger issues facing these students.

Maybe we could focus less on shuffling students from building to building and more on something largely absent from this conversation: The quality of their education.

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