Mixed emotions were expressed among both parents and students as Dugger Elementary School held is final sixth-grade graduation Wednesday.
The Northeast Sullivan School Board voted in December to close Union Junior/Senior and Dugger Elementary schools at the end of the school year due to declining enrollment.
Eric and Catherine Blevens attended to watch their 13-year-old daughter, Ashley, graduate. “Ashley has been here since pre-school,” Catherine Blevens said.
“Nobody wants to see it go,” Eric Blevens said of the school. “I graduated from here, kindergarten on up” to high school. He is a 1992 graduate of Union High School.
“My whole family graduated from here. I don’t want to see it go, but I guess economy-wise and for the benefit of the kids, who may get a better education maybe, it might be for the best. It will be hard to adjust to the changes,” he said.
The last class at the elementary school, which will graduate high school in 2020, consisted of 25 students — four boys and 21 girls.
Shelby Hall, one of three graduating students to present reflections during the ceremony, said 15 of 24 of her classmates said the school closing was their worst memory. Yet Hall said the school presented many happy memories that each will remember as students go separate paths.
“It is sad as this is our last year together as a class and a family. I will remember all my friends who made me laugh and cheered me up when I was upset,” said Shaughnessy Dinkins, president of the student council.
Student Blake Simpson said while the elementary school had a small class, it allowed him to know each person and think of his class as family.
Simpson said he will forever wear Dugger’s school colors, even when he goes to a different school next year
“I am a Bulldog, not whatever their mascot is” somewhere else, he said — which brought an immediate round of applause from the audience.
Many of the students are going to schools such as Linton-Stockton, Shakamak and Carlisle.
That’s the case for Jerrica Nicklies, whose parents, Shane and Rebecca, watched her graduate.
“I am a little excited about her going to Carlisle Junior High School next year. Academically they are more advanced and they have more to offer for extracurricular. There is silver lining” in the school closing, Shane Howard said.
In addition, Howard said Carlisle is closer to their home. “It is about 9.5 miles from our home, compared to 24.6 miles to North Central [Junior/Senior High School],” Howard said.
Chrissy and Kevin Cesinger said their daughter, Hannah, will attended Shakamak Junior/Senior High School. Chrissy Cesinger graduated from Union High School in 1998.
“We’re heart broken the school is closing. All these kids are going separate ways. Hannah will go to Shakamak [Junior/Senior High School]. We won’t stay in this school corporation,” she said.
Shakamak is also just six minutes from their home, she added.
Jim Stringer, and his wife, Lana, brought yellow roses to give their twin granddaughters — Kinley and Kaylee Ballard — after the graduation ceremony. Stringer is a 1967 graduate of Union High School.
“It is sad, really sad the school is closing. They are going so many different ways, but hopefully they will keep in contact with each other. On the other hand, they are young enough that they will adapt wherever they go,” Stringer said.
His granddaughters will now attend Linton-Stockton Junior High School.
“It will be bittersweet, but I am happy they are graduating from here,” Stringer added.
In addition to students, Beth Langel, who served as principal for the elementary school for 41⁄2 years is leaving to take an administrative position in Putnam County. She has worked in the Northeast Sullivan School Corp. for 25 years.
“It is sad to see the students go, but they have bright futures ahead of each and every one of them, no matter where they go,” Langel said.
“There are so many mixed emotions. When you go into your particular profession, you always know there will changes. Not too many people stay at one particular place their entire career,” she said.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.