Brown Deer — Marching and laughing and crying and hugging and singing, a crowd of students, teachers and parents said their goodbyes to Dean Elementary Thursday.
Their sendoff, which wound its way through the school as a parade and concluded outside with the release of golden balloons — many of which sported the names of students and teachers, alongside messages — marked the last day in the building before the gutting and demolition occur in October.
"It's the last time these kids will be walking down these hallways," Superintendent Deb Kerr said as the parade marched by.
Dean Elementary opened in the fall of 1959, home of the kindergarten through eighth-grade Dean School District, which was one of several such area districts that fed into the Granville Union Free High School District. As time wore on, several of the then-seperate districts consolidated into one composed of Dean Elementary, Brown Deer Middle School and what was originally called Granville High School and later Brown Deer High School.
In light of the 2011 referendum to consolidate Brown Deer schools into two buildings, the fate of the aging and maintenance-prone Dean Elementary was sealed.
"We watched it built," commented resident Jean Marquardt, whose two eldest children went to Dean in its inaugural year, "and we're watching it come to an end."
In the fall, elementary students will learn in the renovated and combined elementary and middle school building.
"We may be saying bye to Dean School, but we're saying hello to Brown Deer Elementary!" Dean Principal Kortney Smith told the crowd, later leading students in a farewell recitation of the school song.
As the procession made its way through the halls, retiring English-as-a-second-language teacher Lucy Bingen, a 22-year Dean Elementary veteran, dabbed tears from her eyes as she watched the youngsters go by.
"It's the end of an era," Bingen said, "and I'm going with it."
Bingen said she will miss the staff and the camaraderie. More than anything, though, she'll miss the thrill of hearing children with a foreign native language speak their first word of English.
"It's the gratification of knowing you made a difference in someone's life," Bingen said, describing those breakthrough moments.
It's a feeling Bingen isn't quite ready to give up.
Starting in the fall she'll be back, participating in the Senior Tax Exchange Program, which allows retirees the opportunity to pitch in around the district in exchange for tax credits.
"They can't get rid of me just yet," Bingen said, smiling and waving at her students as they passed by.