Robertson, Mount Zion close for good

Published 11:12 pm Friday, June 17, 2011

Kemontay Gatling dodges the spray of Silly String from Robertson Elementary School teachers and staff as he walks toward the bus on the last day the school will ever teach students.

Friday marked the close of another school year for more than 14,000 students in Suffolk Public Schools.

But for two schools in particular, it was the end of an era.

Students at Robertson and Mount Zion elementary schools left the buildings for the last time on Friday afternoon, culminating a decision by the School Board earlier this year to close the old buildings to save money.

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Some students at Robertson cried as they headed for their buses on Friday. Others laughed as they dodged the shower of Silly String coming from the line of teachers outside the school’s front doors.

“It’s going to be real hard not seeing them,” said Robertson principal Rhonda Jones. “I’ve been here for nine years. You kind of get attached to the student population and to the communities.”

The Robertson staff began singing “Na na na na, Na na na na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye,” as the students marched through the tunnel of teachers. However, they soon decided that was too sad. Someone set up a CD player and put Disney’s “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” on repeat.

“It was a good last day,” Jones reported. “Kids are much more resilient than adults are. They’re well prepared to go into other schools.”

At Mount Zion, the mood was upbeat as fifth-graders had their “Crossing the Bridge” ceremony. The soon-to-be middle-school students each walked across a small wooden bridge in the cafeteria decorated with flowers.

Some of the graduates were crying, Mount Zion principal Fran Barnes said, but that happens every year.

“It was sad, but we wanted to make it a joyous occasion,” Barnes said.

Alumni and former teachers of Mount Zion attended the ceremony to speak to the students. Some remembered when Mount Zion didn’t have any air-conditioning, and the PTA had fans installed in each of the rooms.

Faculty and staff at both schools already have begun packing their things. Those who aren’t retiring are moving to other schools in the district.

“I still have a lot of work to do,” said Glenda Dunn, the librarian at Mount Zion. Once she is done packing up the books to be sent to other schools, she will be retiring after 32 years of service.

Students from Robertson will head to either Southwestern or Booker T. Washington elementary schools. All of Mount Zion’s pupils will attend Elephant’s Fork Elementary School next year.

“The good thing is they’re blending in with other children from Robertson,” Jones said. “They’ll see other students there that they know.”

As for the principals, Jones is retiring after 30 years in education. Barnes will become principal at Florence Bowser Elementary School.

The School Board has yet to announce plans for the buildings.