Last Day of School at East Ward

East Ward fifth-graders sign autograph books on last day of school
By: Todd Martin
The last day of a school year always comes with a mix of joy and sadness as well as some cleaning and packing up. Finishing 66 school years is something else entirely.
The Killeen Independent School District, with its 45,000 students and their family members wrapped up the 2018-2019 school year Thursday.
At East Ward Elementary School, the school at 1608 East Rancier Avenue in downtown Killeen, students, teachers, administrators and family members finished a school year with pizza parties and autograph books and continued cleaning out the building set to close in coming days.
East Ward, which opened in 1952, will become a construction site this summer and will occupy a new three-level school, consolidating East Ward and West Ward elementary schools set to re-open in 2021.
So, as students and staff members packed up a year, they also packed up decades of memories, shot lots of photos and made numerous trips to the dumpsters.
There’s also the matter of opening Maude Moore Wood Elementary School, KISD’s newest campus set to open in August, where East Ward students will attend the next two years and where East Ward Principal Norma Baker will continue to lead the way.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Baker, speaking Thursday in her almost-packed-up office. “It makes everything real. It’s the end of an era and the beginning of another. It’s an opportunity for a fresh start to create a new legacy.”
Acknowledging that the myriad of details in planning to close and open and open again can be daunting, she said, “It’s such a great opportunity for the community. It’s stressful, but it’s a positive, excited stress.”
Honestly, the principal said, this year’s end of school year has been less overwhelming than some past years because of the added excitement.
Even Skills teacher Richard Crow, who grew up in the downtown neighborhood and attended school there from first through fifth grade, was excited amid the swirl of emotion.
“Very exciting,” he said of his thoughts on ending the school year. “It’s bittersweet. There are a lot of memories in this building, but like we’ve been saying, ‘it’s not about a building, it’s about the people.’ We will stay a family.”
Third-grade teacher Jamie Foster attended East Ward in the fifth grade and just finished her eighth year as a teacher there. “It’s definitely bittersweet. I’m excited about the journey, but sad because this is home. I’ll take all the good feelings about this place and take them to the new school.”
Fifth-grade teacher Gerri Williams and her students passed around paper autograph books to sign. As sixth-graders, they are headed to Nolan and Manor middle schools in Killeen. One is going to the STEM Academy at Smith Middle School. Another is moving out of town.
“It’s fun and exciting and kind of sad,” said Kailyana Lamberton of finishing fifth grade. “East Ward is closing and friends are going to different middle schools.” She also said she was excited at the chance to earn high school credits at the STEM Academy while in middle school.
“I like all the people,” Lamberton said. “Everyone builds you up here. The teachers give you an education to prepare you for middle school and for how it will be when we grow up.”
“I like East Ward,” said fifth-grader Larosa Lopez. “You meet a lot of new people.” She said she enjoyed “Fun Fridays,” when students earned time on the computer when they finished their assignments.
There’s no telling how many times Sophia Lambert has made her way to East Ward. Over the years, she has dropped off and picked up her own six children as well as eight grandchildren at the school. “I’ve always liked East Ward,” she said. “I like the teachers, they’ve always done a good job teaching my kids even when they were being hard.”
“It’s not the building that created this sense of belonging,” said Baker. “It’s the people. It’s lasted generation after generation and it will continue with the new building.”