End of Rotterdam schools’ year is poignant

Year-end programs at Mariaville and Woestina elementary schools this week were especially emotional,

Year-end programs at Mariaville and Woestina elementary schools this week were especially emotional, not just for the kids but for their parents and their teachers, too.

The schools, part of the Schalmont district, are closing in the face of rising costs and shrinking enrollments.

The moving-up programs traditionally held for fifth-graders bound for the middle school were expanded this year to include all of the children.

Mariaville and Woestina pupils will now attend classes at Jefferson, the sole remaining elementary school in the district.

The word “bittersweet” came up often as staff, children and families shared their feelings.

While everyone was happy to be celebrating the kids’ successes, they were sad at the loss of the small community schools, each of which had about 100 pupils.

“Transition is difficult, but I think we’ve situated us for the future to make sure we continue to provide programs for the students,” said Superintendent Valerie Kelsey.

Students posed for pictures with teachers and the principal, sang songs and reflected on their years at the school during moving-up ceremonies.

At an event held at the high school Wednesday morning for Mariaville students, each student received a paper medallion inscribed with the words “Mariaville School 1927-2011.” They also got a few parting words of wisdom from their teachers.

“I’ve seen the children grow into gifted readers and writers and blossom right before my eyes,” said Mariaville first- and second-grade teacher Kim Knapik of her first-grade pupils. The second-graders were also very inquisitive, asking if they could do more work or do fun educational games.

Fifth-grader Tony Karbowski, who is 11, said he would miss his teachers at Mariaville.

Parent Lisa Karbowski said she liked the atmosphere at the school.

“It was the small community school. It’s so sad that it’s closing,” she said. “They prepare the kids really well.”

Mariaville Principal Brian Hunt shared that feeling.

“I know they’re going to do well in the new schools,” he said. “It’s an emotional time for parents and staff and kids. We’ll be OK.”

Hunt is moving on himself, accepting a job as superintendent of the small Edmeston Central School District in Otsego County.

“I am boxing everything up at my school and boxing everything up at my house,” he said.

Mariaville parent Nina Maddalla is sending her 11-year-old children, Paul and Ava, off to the middle school.

“I’ll miss all the field days and recess,” Paul said wistfully.

The field days, complete with Olympic-type events, were also a highlight for Woestina Principal Shari Lontrato, who has led the school for seven years. Lontrato is moving up to become the district’s director of pupil personnel services.

“We’ve all come to acceptance at this point,” she said. “It’s something that has to be done, but it’s sad. There’s been a lot of good memories.”

One of those occurred a few years ago, when they turned Woestina into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and everyone dressed up as characters from the story, Lontrato said. Students did math and science based on a candy theme.

Staff members at both schools have been working to help students adjust to their new buildings. The students have gone to Jefferson and the middle school and met their new classmates and teachers.

“They are really excited to realize: ‘Hey, I know this kid from baseball or I know this kid from my soccer team,’ ” Lontrato said.

Middle school Associate Principal Matt Morgan showed the students a welcoming DVD and had them meet their teachers and tour the building. The fifth-graders will be housed in self-contained classrooms upstairs.

“Both Mariaville and Woestina have a very strong sense of community and pride,” he said. “We want to continue that when they come to the middle school.”

Jeff Zier, the father of 6-year-old Justin, said the parents are probably more concerned about this change than the children.

“They’ll adjust,” he said. “They’ve got it under control at Jefferson. I think everything is going to be nice and smooth.”

Lontrato encouraged students to take what they learned at Woestina with them as they continue on in their education: “It’s not just a building. It’s part of you.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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