With minimum of fuss, Uniontown school closes

June 25, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

To the children who filed out of Uniontown Elementary School yesterday, the last day in the life of their historic school was just, well, the last day of school.

They signed yearbooks. They toted end-of-the-year spoils, such as colored chalk and plant cuttings. They were only a little sentimental, and only when asked about it.

"They have no comprehension," said Robin Hoff, 27, of Jasontown Road. Her daughter, Ashley Norris, is a third-grader at the school, which Ms. Hoff had attended.

Judy Anton, of Old Taneytown Road, said it may take a while for the nostalgia to hit them, as it does her son, now in sixth grade at Northwest Middle School.

"Every time I have a meeting here, he says, 'Can I come? Can I come?' " she said, and he likes to come back and chat with teachers and just see the place.

Parents and staff fought back tears more than once yesterday, they said, although the final hour was cheerful and bright, with lots of smiles for snapshots.

Rachelle Hurwitz said she cried watching Barbara Childs help about a dozen children -- the school's only walkers -- cross the street.

Mrs. Childs is retiring after 21 years as a health aide and instructional assistant at Uniontown. She also went to the

school, as did her children. Her grandson attended this year. She said she is as sad as anyone to see the school close.

"I think small schools are very important for elementary children," Mrs. Childs said. "In the larger schools, it's impossible to have the nurturing and caring you have in a small school."

With the Uniontown closing, only Elmer Wolfe and Charles Carroll elementary schools still qualify as small in the county, with about 350 to 400 students in each. The Board of Education is moving toward schools with 600-student capacities, so each can have full-time support teachers for such endeavors as art, music and physical education, said Kathleen Sanner, a school planner.

Other problems with Uniontown Elementary, she said, were lack of access for handicapped students and the expense of maintaining the old building, which was built in 1931.

Uniontown School has been there in one incarnation or another since 1883, and for 50 years before that it was in a building down the street, said Principal Mary Stong. She attended the school when she was a child and returned 17 years ago as a teacher. She became principal nine years ago.

The main building has just four classrooms, with a library in a former storage area. Two more classrooms are in a portable building adjacent to the school. But what Uniontown lacked in space and modern comfort, parents said, it made up for with an intimate, caring environment among the close-knit staff.

"I'm going to miss all the teachers," said Eddie Seeley, who just completed fourth grade there and will go to Runnymede Elementary School next year.

"At this school, everybody knows your name. Even my first-grade teacher still knows my name," he said.

Several parents were at the school most of the day yesterday, reminiscing and helping teachers pack. A half-hour before dismissal, parent Judy Anton delivered freezer pops to the classrooms.

"Twenty years ago, when I went here, they wanted to close it," Ms. Hoff said.

At the time, the community mounted a big fight and won. A few years ago, when school officials again decided to close it, parents didn't put up much of a fight.

"We were told it was useless; it was a done deal," Ms. Hoff said.

Several parents mentioned the positive aspects of going to Runnymede, such as fewer cases of having two grades under one teacher, more computers and a lot more space.

Asked what she'd like to see happen to the old Uniontown building, Judy Anton smiles and reveals the wish she know isn't likely to come true.

"Actually we would like Mary [Stong] to open it as a private school, with Mary as the headmistress."

Ms. Stong will remain principal at Elmer Wolfe Elementary School. This year, she had divided her time between Elmer Wolfe and Uniontown. But Uniontown has been the heart of her career.

VTC She may not have learned all she needed to know in kindergarten, she said, but, "All I had to know about school and teaching and being an educator, I've learned at this school."

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