‘It’s my favorite school in the whole world’: Kids bid farewell to Heath School

  • Parents, teachers and residents bang on drums and other musical instruments as students leave the Heath Elementary School for the last time on Friday. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • One last hug for principal Jesse Porter-Henry on the last day of classes at the Heath Elementary School on Friday. June 23, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Heath Elementary School students Cameron Sessions-Delisle, Landon Smead and Emmalee Inman look at class photos in the lunch room on the last day of classes at the school. June 23, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • K1 students at the Heath Elementary School goof around on the last day of school. June 23, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The banner from the last graduating class at the Heath Elementary School. June 23, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Photos with friends as students leave the Heath Elementary School for the last time on Friday. June 23, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • There were hugs and tears as students leave the Heath Elementary School for the last time on Friday. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Heath Elementary School principal Jesse Porter-Henry finds the hand he cast in glass as a Heath student years ago, when the school was first built. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 6/23/2017 10:51:36 PM

HEATH — The child chatter in the half-filled cafeteria on the last day of school was seemingly cheery, until you asked if they were looking forward to their summer vacation.

One little girl hesitated, then nodded her head. “Yes,” she said solemnly. “But I’m sad to leave this school.”

“I’m sad that the school is closing,” added the 8-year-old boy beside her. “It’s my favorite school in the whole world.”

For the final day of school, most of the children wore green Heath School T-shirts designed by some of their school mates.

One teacher gave her students beach balls as a going-away gift. Others were given potted plants or had special snacks of brownies or cupcakes.

In the fall, most of the children will go on to the Hawlemont Regional School in Charlemont. The Heath School closing comes after a long, and, for many, agonizing process that led to the determination that operating the school was too costly for the small enrollment. Heath had more than 90 elementary students when the school opened; now there are 32, and the operating costs for the school were over $1 million.

On July 1, the school building is to be returned to Heath town officials, along with a lease termination agreement from the Mohawk Trail Regional School District to pay the town a total of $240,000 over the next three years, while Heath finds a new use for the building.

Around 1 p.m., before the school buses arrived for the last time, school parents and town officials started gathering at the school.

One table in the cafeteria had large photographs of bygone classes. And the “hand-print” glass partition in the central room, designed by Heath glass-artist Bob Dane, was a focal point for many local residents who helped make the school a reality in 1995.

Art Schwenger wearing a “Building Committee” T-shirt, which he must have had from before 1995, was there, along with School Committee member Budge Litchfield — also one of the early community members to get the school built in this town of 700 people.

Heath School Principal Jesse Porter-Henry’s 10th-grade handprint is among those encased in a glass tile on that partition. So is his twin brother’s. All Heath children of school age in 1995 were invited to contribute a handprint, he explained.

It was a bittersweet day for the teachers, also wearing the kid-designed Heath T-shirts. They were quietly cheerful. “We want to keep things light, for the children,” said one. Porter-Henry said some of the teachers and school aides have found other positions within the Mohawk Trail Regional School District for the coming school year, while others are moving to other school systems.

Porter-Henry, who was assistant principal at Mohawk for two years before becoming Heath’s principal, will be teaching next year at the Hampshire Regional Middle School, he said.

When the buses arrived, the children walked through a gantlet of cheering selectmen, parents and teachers, some school staff playing rhythm instruments as the children walked through. Next, the teachers were given community cheers and fresh flowers.

One of the Heath School traditions has been for each graduating sixth-grade class to design and make a banner, like a coat of arms, that hangs above the walls of the central room.

The Class of 2017’s is, of course, the last banner hanging. It shows a boulder with “Heath School” carved into it and above it are the words of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”




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