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Jones teachers cruise on to a final hoorah
Staff takes boat ride on Lanier
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Driver Blake Scott greets Jill Hilton, left, and Kelley Trippe as they board the Memorial Park Funeral Home bus for a trip to a lake Lanier cruise Monday afternoon at Jones Elementary. Jones Elementary employees and retired teachers were treated to the event by the Gainesville funeral home.

It was perfect weather for a boat ride.

Current and former students, teachers and staff of Jones Elementary School took a cruise on Lake Lanier as a "bon voyage" trip Monday afternoon, courtesy of Memorial Park Funeral Home.

The group boarded the funeral home’s bus at the school and rode to Aqualand Marina in Flowery Branch. They donned leis and marveled at the funeral home’s houseboat, complete with sitting area, kitchen, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a sunny top deck.

Songs such as "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "We Are Family" and "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" permeated the mood of the afternoon over the boat’s speaker system.

"Everybody’s supposed to dance today," Principal Hank Ramey said with a laugh. "Who’s going to start it off?"

"You!" shouted several teachers.

The boat ride matched the school’s theme for the year, which was based on the book "That’s Outside My Boat." Throughout the year, teachers and staff talked about focusing on what they can control in the classroom.

"We’re a Title I school, and there are things you’d like to fix but you can’t," Assistant Principal Kelley Trippe said. "We just can’t worry about the things we can’t control, like the closing of the school."

The staff discussed the closing at times but tried to relax and have fun.

"We’re trying to do the best we can," said Kristin Martin, who taught music at Jones for five years. "I was taking down posters in my classroom today and had flashbacks."

For many, the boat trip was like a family reunion.

"We’ve always known we’re a strong and flexible family and can adapt for the greater good of everybody," said Julie Adams, who taught physical education for 16 years. "We carry on. Jones is all about the big picture, and we hope the kids can share that everywhere they go as well."

The trip was organized by Monie Shope, instructional coach at Jones who also attended as a student, and Kevin Wetzel, president of operations for Memorial Park.

"I knew the closing was coming, and I tried to think of anything nice we could do," Shope said. "I talked to Kevin, and he told me when the news about the closing comes, to just let him know."

As the ride came to a close, Shope passed the microphone to teachers and staff, asking them to share memories and final farewell messages. The joy of the afternoon was broken by tears.

"Times change, and there are good memories, but I’m glad we’re putting the sadness to rest here, though it may be on our minds," said Charles Shockley, a coach who taught at Jones for 37 years. "Education goes through tough times, but not this bad."

Ramey continued the nautical theme and said "I love y’all" before he started crying.

"Anybody can sail a boat in calm and steady waters, but you are the crew and glue that held together during a challenging time," he said. "It’s akin to a divorce or a family breaking up, and you’re smiling when it’s hard to smile. You’re the classiest and most wonderful educators in the world."

Mary Beth Sutton, a Jones teacher for more than 30 years, presented Ramey and Trippe with flotation rings, signed by teachers and staff. She encouraged the teachers to carry on the Jones family feeling at other schools.

"Nobody can take that spirit from us. We are the legacy," she said. "At your new schools, find those people who really do care about the kids. We love those children, and the children know it."

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