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A poignant last day of school for families, faculty and a reporter

Park Road music teacher McKenzie Coleman wraps musical instruments for the move to Sedgefield Montessori School.
Ann Doss Helms
/
WFAE
Park Road music teacher McKenzie Coleman wraps musical instruments for the move to Sedgefield Montessori School.

This article originally appeared in WFAE reporter Ann Doss Helms' weekly education newsletter. To get the latest school news in your inbox first, sign up for our email newsletters here.

The last day of school is always bittersweet, and that was especially true at Park Road Montessori School on Friday. There were pizza parties, kazoos buzzing and parents streaming in for moving-up celebrations. And there were countless moving boxes, giant rolls of bubble wrap and lots of emotion.

It was the last last day of school for Park Road Montessori. The 75-year-old building will be demolished this summer, making way for a new school. Some of the teachers and students will move to the new Sedgefield Montessori School a couple of miles away, and others will scatter.

After doing a recent story about students trying to preserve trees on the campus, I realized this was where I wanted to be on Friday. Because it was also my last last day of school. I plan to retire at the end of August, after 43 years in journalism and 22 years covering education in Charlotte.

When I started the beat in 2002, the big story was the rollout of a new student assignment plan for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The Choice Plan was created in response to a lawsuit that ended court-ordered desegregation. The upheaval is hard to imagine if you didn't experience it. Boundaries were redrawn. Magnet programs moved. And tens of thousands of students switched schools. Out of that came Park Road Montessori, when CMS moved the magnet program out of Amay James.

I've spent a lot of the last 22 years talking to adults about big issues in education. But the thing that always brings me joy is visiting schools. So I swung back by to see what some of the Park Road students had to say about facing change.

Park Road Montessori students (l-r) Zoe Satterfield, Candace Ramet, Zoe Ireland and Miska Swartz with a big roll of bubble wrap.
Ann Doss Helms
/
WFAE
Park Road Montessori students (l-r) Zoe Satterfield, Candace Ramet, Zoe Ireland and Miska Swartz with a big roll of bubble wrap.

Advice from the students

Zoe Satterfield, an 11-year-old rising sixth-grader, says she’s losing classmates because of the move to Sedgefield. CMS Montessori schools run from pre-K to sixth grade, but she says several parents decided to move their children to traditional middle schools next year. But she’s trying to take it in stride: “Change happens a lot.”

Candace Ramet, a 9-year-old who will be in fourth grade at Sedgefield, says she’s sad and nervous about leaving a school that’s been part of her life for as long as she can remember. Her sister went to Park Road when Candace was a toddler, and she sat in the carpool line even before she started pre-K. She says she’s been trying to prepare herself to say goodbye by remembering that “even if it’s not going to be the same campus, it’s not the building (that matters), it’s the people in it.”

Miska Swartz, a 10-year-old going into fifth grade, thinks of the move as an adventure: “You have a new campus, you have new trees and plants to study. It’s a new adventure that anyone can discover anything in.”

Zoe Ireland, who’s 12, will move up to seventh grade at J.T. Williams Secondary Montessori School. She says she’s come to “a hard acceptance” that the Park Road campus she loves won’t be there anymore. She says it’s like her dad tells her about scars: “It’s always a story to tell after. If it’s good or bad, it’s still something.”

Moving boxes line the hall on the very last day of school for Park Road Montessori.
Ann Doss Helms
/
WFAE
Moving boxes line the hall on the very last day of school for Park Road Montessori.

Preparing for change and goodbyes

The kids nailed it. Change can be an adventure, and you can stay connected with the people who matter even when things around you shift. And yes, Zoe, everything is indeed a story.

The last 22 years have brought changes in education and news media that none of us could have imagined in 2002. Good and bad, it's part of this region's history. One reason it has never gotten old for me is the people who make it happen. Sometimes I can't believe I'm still getting paid to talk to interesting people who do things that matter.

We're kicking around ideas for ways to celebrate the people who have been part of this scene. Meanwhile, I hope to carve off time this summer to pull together observations on the big themes and trends I've covered. By the end of August, I should be ready to hand off to a new education reporter as the new school year begins. If you know of anyone who might be interested, keep checking here for a posting.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.