Amid the tears, hugs and goodbyes, Jones Elementary School Principal Hank Ramey called for cheers, claps and shouts of excitement.
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,” Ramey said to a gym packed with current and former students, teachers and staff. Across the county Friday, students celebrated the last day of school, but at Jones it was a bittersweet celebration — the school will not be reopening in the fall.
Ramey presented awards to students, recognized retiring staff members and played a slide show of pictures collected since the school opened in 1949. Teachers pulled out tissues, students cheered for their classmates and four staff members began swaying to the music in the back of the gym.
Chad Cobb, Jones Parent Teacher Organization president who spoke out against the closing at public meetings, was present Friday and handed out awards. His wife, who attended Jones, and fifth-grade daughter Haley, showed up in support and left in tears.
“It’s emotional anyway with my daughter graduating this morning,” Cobb said. “But we decided to be happy by looking at what all has happened here at Jones and what we’ve accomplished.”
With an estimated $1 million in savings, the closing will move staff and about 370 students out of the building. Ramey and most students and teachers will head to Chicopee Woods Elementary School this fall.
“It’s so sad that the school is closing,” third-grader Maria Lara said. “I’m going to cry.”
“I’m going to miss the whole school,” agreed her friend Leslie Avitia, also a third-grader. “The teachers, the playground, being book buddies with the kindergarten kids.”
“I’ll miss friends and being together,” third-grader Chandler Mayfield said. “Some people have been checking out early, so we’ve been saying goodbyes all day.”
After the assembly ended, fifth-graders prepared to take a traditional walk through the halls before boarding buses. The other grades lined the halls to cheer during the “walk of fame.”
“You’re going out into that world, and I promise you, you are ready whether you realize it or not,” Ramey told the fifth-graders as they grouped together. “You’re going to be in middle school next year. And it may take you just a little while to get adjusted, but you’re going to figure out real quick that there is life after Jones Elementary School. Share with everybody in this world all the wonderful things you learned.”
The fifth-graders were greeted by halls packed with cheering and sobbing classmates. They hugged and chatted before stepping onto separate buses. Ramey and Assistant Principal Kelley Tripp, both who began working at Jones when the fifth-graders started kindergarten, talked to students leaning out of bus windows.
“It’s real easy to cry, and believe me, I’ve shed more than a few tears these past few weeks,” Ramey said. “This community is contagious and it gets in your blood and heart. I’ve tried to keep folks motivated and keep their chin up. We’re going to focus on moving on with life and celebrating the things that have happened here.”
As the buses closed their doors, teachers and staff crossed the parking lot and stood by the school sign. A tradition on the last day of school, they waved as the buses pulled out of the school driveway, but this year it meant even more. As the last bus approached, two jumped in the road as a joke.
“Don’t let them leave!” a few teachers shouted. “Push them back!”
The bus rolled away, honking all the way up First Street. Teachers and staff watched the bus and lingered a little longer.
Ramey stood by the school’s sign and then looked at the message posted on the front.
“Thank you for 61 amazing years.”