Saying 'So Long, Farewell' at Babenhausen Elementary
June 2, 2006
BABENHAUSEN, Germany – The 10-year-old pupil climbed atop a yellow step stool behind the lectern and introduced herself.
“Greetings,” the fourth-grader said to the crowd assembled in the school gym. “My name is India Barnett, and I have been at Babenhausen Elementary School since kindergarten.”
In years past, fourth-graders at Babenhausen proceeded to the fifth grade, schoolwork and test scores permitting.
But this fall India will be attending Old Argonner Elementary School in Hanau. That’s because Babenhausen, like seven other DODDS-Europe schools, is closing its doors for good this month.
“Small communities have that hometown feel, and I think you can say that about Babenhausen,” said teacher Patricia McGlown, a fixture at the school for 32 years.
These are sometimes bittersweet days for folks in schoolhouses. Summer vacation rules, but parting ways isn’t always as easy as it might seem, be it for teachers or students. Close a school and emotions run even higher.
“We haven’t dwelled on it,” said Essie Grant, principal of Gelnhausen Elementary School, which is also at the end of its final school year. “Instruction still goes on. This is the first week we’ve been talking about it to them.”
Gelnhausen plans to hold its farewell event June 9. Grant has reached out to former Secretary of State Colin Powell and television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, asking if they would like to help her send the school off in style. But Powell can’t make it, and Winfrey’s staff hasn’t responded yet.
“Nothing beats a failure, but a try,” Grant said, invoking a favorite saying of her parents.
At Babenhausen Elementary, the farewell was on the simpler side.
There were no big names or even a small band. Principal Lee Hunt read a poem, McGlown spoke — and cried, though she promised herself she wouldn’t — and several students followed India Barnett to the podium.
Fifth-graders Dawntae Griggs and Chante Mack had the crowd of parents and well-wishers in stitches at times as the duo spoke of their years at the school, which was founded in 1954. Chante recollected how her first-grade teacher nearly took an unexpected trip — to the nurse’s office.
“She slipped on a pencil,” Chante said. “She made us line up against the chalkboard and asked whose pencil it was. No one confessed, so we stayed in from recess.”
Chante went on to refer to Hunt as “the backbone of this school for seven years,” a fitting adieu to the retiring educator.
The following speaker, Nastasia Disotell, choked up and never did fully recover. Priscilla Mack struggled a bit, too.
It was all so emotional and charming and heartfelt that audience members could be seen wiping tears from their eyes.
The school assembly ended with a rendition of the song “So Long, Farewell,” from the “Sound of Music.”
“Change is good,” McGlown added, “but it is difficult.”