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Closings of Bennett and MLK stir sadness among kids, staff



Published: Sat, June 12, 2004 @ 12:00 a.m.



Teachers and staff from the schools must bid on other district jobs.

By JoANNE VIVIANO

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Petra Barnhouse thought it wouldn't affect her.

But when she was asked Friday about the permanent closing of Bennett Elementary School, the art teacher got a little choked up.

"It's kind of a melancholic moment," she said. "As teachers ... with our principal, we grew together nicely, and I have a hard time parting."

The South Side school and Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary school on the North Side are closing for good as the school year ends. Friday was the final day for pupils.

"It's sad that our school is going to be closing because we became a tight-knit family. We have a wonderful, wonderful staff here. I'm going to miss them dearly," said Bennett Principal Bruce Palmer. "It's a sad day today, but one thing we take with us is the memories. We made a lot of friendships here, lasting friendships, and sometime, somewhere, we'll meet up again."

Opened in 1929

Bennett Elementary opened in 1929 and was named for Dr. J.H. Bennett, who represented the South Side on the school board from 1908 to 1920. Originally on Mabel Street, it was in the Princeton Avenue building for the past two years.

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School on Covington Street was built in 1940. The school was called Covington Street School until it was renamed after the slain civil rights leader in 1986.

At MLK, first-grade teacher Joyce Wiggins got help taking down posters and displays from pupils Dezjheaun Nix, Mark Hughes, Vaness Jones and Malcolm Battee.

Wiggins has taught in Youngstown for 32 years, with 25 at the MLK building.

"I'll miss the familiarity of knowing people in the community," she said. I'll miss the small community, knowing the parents. I'll miss the staff. I'll miss the children. I'll miss just about everything."

Bidding for positions

Wiggins said staff members at MLK are sad because they are being split up, but there also is anxiety because all teachers must bid for new positions within the system. Placement will be determined based on seniority. Teachers at Bennett are in the same position.

Most don't yet know where they'll be next year.

MLK fourth-graders Darius Hargrove and Dominique Burnett spent part of their final day at the school in its rotunda, which features a painting of King and a larger-than-life papier m & acirc;ch & eacute; statue of him that was crafted by West Elementary School gifted pupils years ago.

"That makes me feel sad because I'm gonna miss a lot of people here," Darius said. "This is the best school I ever went to."

Without a school named after King, Dominique added, the community is going to "be missing the spirit of Martin Luther King."

Pupils in Tammy Foley's class also were thinking of their school's namesake and the statue created in his honor.

"Martin Luther King's special," said Ethel Parker, a third-grader. "I want to take a picture with Martin Luther King before I leave this school."

"I do too," said Tiesha Howell, also a third-grader.

Presentation

In recognition of the school's closing, Foley's class created a booklet and presentation on the school staff and history. They conducted interviews, took photos, wrote sentences and dreamed of the future: Tiesha wants to be a police officer, and Ethel a kindergarten teacher. Fourth-grade classmate Rasheed Floyd wants to be a firefighter.

Principal Michele Dotson said pupils in each class also made pictures that will be adhered to ceramic tiles and hung in the building, which will remain as a community center.

"We want to leave a legacy here that won't go away," said Dotson, who has been principal at the school since 1998.

On her last day with the children, she got a hug from Ethel.

"Kids here love to be hugged," she said.

At Bennett, sixth-grader Jasmine Cecil said she was pretty sad.

"I've been here since kindergarten," she explained. "It has all my memories and everything. There's not a school that could replace Bennett."

Saying goodbye to 26 years of memories at Bennett was librarian Mary Ellen Henry, who has worked in the district 37 years.

"It's very heartbreaking, very disappointing, because I enjoyed it all," said Henry, who is retiring. Also retiring is guided reading teacher Mary Kay Earnhart, who has taught 20 of her 21 years at Bennett.

Palmer said it was difficult as teachers said goodbye, but, sitting in his office, he brought to mind something his grandmother used to say.

"For every door that closes, there's a door that opens," he recalled.

"And my philosophy," he added, "is that whatever happens, there's always good that happens out of it."




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