Local News

Summer’s here! County students begin two-month long vacation

—Becky Travers loves to fish, so what better way to “sail” into retirement than on a boat?
On the last day of school for the Highlands County School District Wednesday, the Woodlawn Elementary School bookkeeper did just that.
Travers and fellow Woodlawn retiree, front desk clerk Mayra Brugiatti, took a spin in Travers’ boat twice around the school’s bus loop as husband, Dave, did the honors driving the truck where the boat was hitched.
Waiting outside, with banners, smiles, hugs and good-byes, were the school’s staff members and 560 students.
It’s a Woodlawn tradition to usher away its retirees in a parade of some sort.
The mode of transportation varies. This year it was a boat. Last year’s retiree rode in a sports car.
It seemed fitting to give Travers a send-off in a boat, where she is planning to spend a lot of her time after retirement, said Principal Melissa Blackman.
Travers, who actually went to Woodlawn as a little girl, is leaving after 28 years with the school; Brugiatti after 19.
“I don’t think I’m going to make it,” Travers said solemnly when asked if she was going to choke up. Monday, she made sure to arm herself with a box of Kleenex at the retirement party the school hosted. Wednesday, she seemed to be holding herself well.
“I promised myself I won’t cry,” Brugiatti smiled. A native of Panama, she started working part-time in the United States when she got comfortable speaking English. She has been Woodlawn’s ESOL paraprofessional and cafeteria clerk, ending with her role as the school’s front-desk person.
Fifth-grade teacher Jerry Wright said what he was going to miss the most about her was her smile and warm personality.
He described Travers as someone one could always count on.
“She’s truly a helping hand,” he added.
A “fabulous cook” who can whip up a four-course meal with just a handful of ingredients, Travers is departing and so are her famous marinated tomatoes, a school favorite on Teacher Appreciation Week, Wright said, although it appears they have wrangled a promise from her to bring them by now and then.
The two retirees hugged and shook hands with the students and staff gathered, before walking down a “red carpet” of paper.
“It’s a great way for them to leave their final mark,” Wright said.
Departing school teachers, administrators and support staff members were not the only ones who left a bitter-sweet mark Wednesday.
Eight-graders and fifth-graders bid adieu to their schools and classmates before starting a new academic life in the high schools and middle schools they are headed to.
Cracker Trail Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Ian Belanger has a last-day tradition he always holds.
“You only graduate once,” he reasoned, so leaving fifth-grade may not be a graduation per se but is still a big day for students, so he does something special and parents are invited to be a part of it.
Wednesday, his students ate pizzas and cupcakes, and cracked up and even choked up a bit over a slide show he put together of all the good and goofy times.
This year Belanger is co-teaching two classes with teacher Ashley Helms, so between the two, they are molding 44 minds or one-third of the school’s fifth-grade.
“It’s been a very interesting year having the two classes together,” he told the group of students and parents. “It’s been a lot of fun and I think we’ve accomplished a lot.”
Then students watched themselves in photos, getting awards, playing volleyball with teachers, dressing up for the character parade, enjoying the D.A.R.E. graduation and holiday festivities.
There were giggles and smiles and little bit of dancing to the accompanying music.
But that’s not what saying good-bye is all about.
“I’m going to cry now,” one student remarked as the slide show whizzed by. ‘So am I,” another added.
Justin Gollihue’s most memorable day at Cracker Trail was his first-grade Splash Day where it started raining just before the water festivities started. His summer plans are to go to the beach.
William Eskew woke up Wednesday feeling a little sad. His summer was going to be spent at Master Henry’s summer program, where kids do all kinds of activities -- from going to the arcade to martial arts.
Jayden Lee was planning to go to Tennessee with his family for 10 days and New Hampshire for 15.
“My mother grew up in New Hampsire,” he explained. The plan is to see all the stuff she did.
The Highlands County School District ended this school year with 12,213 students.
Students return for the 2014-15 school year Aug. 20. Teachers come back Aug. 11.