Those with Washington ties celebrate school's history

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Title

Those with Washington ties celebrate school's history

Subject

Schools, BTW

Description

CHAMPAIGN – With 13 school days left in the existing Washington Elementary School building, students, parents and teachers – past and present – celebrated the school's 50-plus years of history.

The school hosted a "Night to Remember" on Tuesday. The school will be vacated after the end of the semester. Students and teachers will move into the old Columbia building at Neil and Bradley, and Washington school will be demolished, making way for a new, two-story magnet school on the same site.

"It gives the children a point to say, 'This is the last time in our building, and we start preparing for the transition to another building,'" said parent Ann Benefiel, one of the organizers of Tuesday's celebration. "The hope is to ease them into the idea."

Hester Suggs, who served as the school's principal for 22 years, from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s, said the evening was bittersweet. She said Washington was a wonderful place to work, and she sometimes gets nostalgic about it.

But, she added, "I see the wonderful plans for the children who are going to be coming and the opportunities they'll have."

Ibeth Zarco, a fourth-grader at Washington, expressed mixed feelings as well.

"I think I'm going to miss this one, but I think there's going to be a better one," she said. "We're going to have more space. It's going to be cool."

Mary Dickinson of Loda taught at the school from 1973 to 2004. She remembers how teachers would make do with what they had. The heat was so sporadic, they used to put wet paper towels and ice cubes on the thermostat to get the heat to turn on.

"Then we were told we shouldn't do that, so we all got in trouble," she said.

Dickinson has long hoped for a new building on the site.

"We never had enough room for what we wanted to do," she said. "I think Washington school should have had a nice, new building long ago. The community deserves it."

Kaamilyah Abdullah-Span and her five siblings all attended Washington. It was a magnet school then, and Abdullah-Span appreciated the diverse student body. She still keeps in touch with many of the friends she made at the school.

She also benefited from creative teachers who provided field trips and hands-on learning for their students. Abdullah-Span hopes that by making Washington a magnet school again, it will attract a broad group of students without displacing any neighborhood children.

Even as Suggs remembered all the years she spent in the school, she noted it isn't the bricks and mortar that matter the most.

"The school is not the building," she said. "The school is what goes on inside the building. The school is how the children are treated."

Creator

Jodi Heckel

Publisher

News-Gazette

Date

12/02/2009

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No

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Citation

Jodi Heckel, “Those with Washington ties celebrate school's history,” eBlack Champaign-Urbana, accessed April 19, 2019, http://eblackcu.net/portal/items/show/213.

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