Students, staff reflect as Ypsilanti Public School District dismisses for final time
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After 164 years, Ypsilanti Public School District schools will dismiss students for summer vacation for the final time as the district merges to form Ypsilanti Community Schools.
For students at Estabrook Elementary, the day was filled with mixed emotions as they celebrated their last day with tears, hugs and words of encouragement.
“Today we will say goodbye to Ypsilanti Public Schools,” Principal Karla Graessley said over the PA system Friday morning. “Tomorrow we will say 'hello' to Ypsilanti Community Schools.”
Students gathered outside to watch the American flag, along with Michigan’s state flag, rise as the pledge of allegiance and the Michigan pledge of allegiance was recited. The national anthem and Ypsilanti School’s fight song was sung before second through fifth graders were sent inside to line the hallways and "clap in" the graduating sixth-grade class.
A ceremony was held in the Estabrook cafeteria for sixth graders and their families as staff gathered to honor academic achievements and present the students with their sixth grade completion certificates.
“I have been a proud principal to these sixth grade students,” Graessley said. “They are smarter, they’re taller and they look ready to take on the world — and they can take on the world.”
The ceremony focused on the achievement of the students as teachers urged the class to work hard and be themselves as they move forward. The end of the YPSD was recognized by Graessley, who said change is hard and there have been bumps in the road.
“It hasn’t always been easy and it has been a lot of work, but I am very excited about the merge bringing these communities together,” Graessley said.
Former school psychologist Sandra Wong left Estabrook in December because of the district change, but returned to see the sixth-grade class off.
“This day is bittersweet — I miss everyone at Estabrook and it’s so great to see all of the sixth graders grow up," Wong said. "I just hope that things go well for the kids. It’s a shame that the education system is the way it is with cutbacks and the current financial situation.”
Sixth-grade teacher Joel Osborn will not be returning to the district next year. He said he always has planned to take his 30-year pension around this time, but the district merge was a factor in his decision to leave after this year.
“I have been very vocal about my disagreement about how all this has been handled,” Osborn said. “I believe it was wrong to lay off all the staff and make them reapply. So many incredible teachers did not get their job back.”
Osborn said he agrees with the consolidation of districts, but not with the way it was handled. After 22 years of teaching in the YPSD, Osborn will retire from education so he can experience other forms of employment.
“I’m blessed to have been able to teach in the district I went to school in,” Osborn said. “Now it’s time for something new, which is what I have always planned.”
After the ceremony, sixth graders gathered with friends and family to say goodbye, take pictures and reminisce about their time together. Many of the students teared up as they said their goodbyes.
“I’m happy and sad to be done with sixth grade,” sixth-grader Caitlyn Burby said. “I have to leave all my friends because most of them will be going to a different middle school. I had a good year and I’m going to miss my friends.”
Graessley said every year there is something that makes leaving the school behind particularly emotional.
Sixth graders will be divided among various middle schools, which will separate them from current classmates, but many of the younger students will not notice the district change. Graessley said most students won’t notice a change beyond the new colors and mascot.
“I’m just excited for summer,” fourth-grader Caprice Augustine said. “I’m looking forward to being in fifth grade and learning new things.”
Augustine said she does not think the district merge will affect her and she will be returning to Estabrook next fall along with the majority of her friends.
“We’ll be in a larger community and some of the staff is changing, but every year we have teacher changes,” Graessley said. “At Estabrook in particular, many students won’t notice a difference.”
Fourth through sixth graders, however, will be moving to new schools. Fourth and fifth graders were given the option of returning to Estabrook or moving to another school within the district, while sixth graders also were able to request the school they wanted to attend.
Graessley said families were allowed to choose because the district wants to make sure all students are being given the opportunity to be in the program fitting their needs.
“This year has been a lot of work, a lot of uncertainty and a lot of stress, but also exciting to start and develop a brand new district,” Graessley said. “Bringing these communities together will be a good thing.”
Chelsea Hoedl is an intern reporter for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.