Goodbye to classes, hello to summer fun

Green Mountain students among first to wrap school year

By Susan Parrish, Columbian Education Reporter

Published:

 

Last day of school for local districts:

June 10: Green Mountain, La Center.

June 16: Camas, Vancouver and Washougal.

June 17: Battle Ground, Evergreen and Ridgefield.

June 19: Woodland.

Last day of school for local districts:

June 10: Green Mountain, La Center.

June 16: Camas, Vancouver and Washougal.

June 17: Battle Ground, Evergreen and Ridgefield.

June 19: Woodland.

GREEN MOUNTAIN — Clutching a snake in its talons, a red-tailed hawk rose above the Lewis River. Tall spikes of deep pink foxglove grew along the road, where a four-wheeler and an orange tractor pulling farm equipment were the lone vehicles. Two horses nibbled grass in a field. Farther down the road, another hawk lifted from its hunting perch on an enormous, round bale of hay.

At the Green Mountain School along Grinnell Road less than a mile south of Lake Merwin, the scene was busier and certainly noisier. Staff and students had gathered on the playing field to sign yearbooks in the final moments of the 2014-15 school year.

Green Mountain and La Center schools released for summer Wednesday. Other Clark County schools will do the same over the next week or so.

This year, 143 children in kindergarten through eighth grade attended the Green Mountain School, which consists of several buildings on a small campus. The original two-room schoolhouse was built in 1932. In 1993-94, it was remodeled and now houses four classrooms. Over time, other buildings have been added.

In 1978, when Suzette Milkowski-McGraw started working as the school’s office manager, less than 50 students were divided among two classrooms. Milkowski-McGraw, who lives just down the road from the school, is retiring after 37 years.

During her tenure, the school’s enrollment has tripled. But it’s still the smallest school in Clark County. The smallest grade this year had only nine kids; the largest, 21. The average class size is 16.

‘Slice of heaven’

Everyone gathered Wednesday to say their farewells for the summer.

“I always come on the last day to say goodbye,” said parent Mary Eavenson, whose two children have attended the rural school.

Eavenson’s son now attends La Center High School. Next year, her daughter, Jessica, will be in eighth grade, her last year at the little country school.

“It’s going to be hard to leave this school,” Eavenson said. “It’s a little slice of heaven up here.”

Louise Kimball has taught first grade at Green Mountain School for 11 years. The Ridgefield resident said she doesn’t mind her 30-mile commute into the lush, rural farmland and foothills heading toward Mount St. Helens. Earlier in her career, she taught in Beaverton, Ore.

“This is way different from Beaverton,” Kimball said. “I wouldn’t trade this school for anything. We had a principal who called this school the jewel of the mountain. I agree with him.”

Kim Shealy, the school librarian and the Title I/LAP coordinator, taught in Vancouver Public Schools for 20 years. When she was offered a job at Green Mountain about six years ago, she moved to Yacolt to be closer to work.

“It is everything you could hope for as a teacher,” Shealy said. “You get to work with these kids one-on-one and you get to know their families. Coming here was an answer to prayer.”

Corey Taylor, 14, has attended Green Mountain School since kindergarten. Next fall, he will be a freshman at Woodland High School. Green Mountain graduates can attend either Battle Ground, La Center or Woodland high schools.

“There’s a lot of love here,” Taylor said, looking around the field. “It’s kind of sad to leave, but it’s time. I’ll miss all the teachers and the kids.”

Brooke Schimmel, 14, also will be a freshman at Woodland High School in the fall. She had attended Green Mountain School years earlier, then had attended Woodland. She returned to Green Mountain for eighth grade.

“I missed the community,” she said. “Here all the teachers know you.”

At that, Schimmel received a goodbye hug from Araya Tromblee, a sixth-grader.

Across the field, Joe Jones, superintendent and principal, signed students’ yearbooks and said his farewells.

“To me, the small school is the best public education can offer,” said Jones. “We get to know the students.”

He added that all staff wear at least two hats. “Many hands make light work. That’s what we say around here.”

Jones, 43, who has led the district for five years, is leaving to work as an educational consultant.

A kindergartner with a glum face walked up to Jones.

“Mr. Joe, today’s the last day of school,” said Larry Weiker, 6.

“It is, ” Jones nodded to the boy. “But it’s the beginning of summer.”

The boy’s face brightened. “Tomorrow’s the first day of summer!”

Jones smiled.

To mark the end of the school year, Jones rang the school bell in the original schoolhouse. Then two yellow buses pulled up. Jones and teachers stood beside the buses, waved and blew bubbles as students aboard the buses waved and shouted “Goodbye! Goodbye!”

Down the road a spell, in a farmhouse yard, a tire swing hanging from a rope awaited a kid.