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Reelsville School like family to teachers, students, community

Monday, April 30, 2012

As Reelsville Elementary nears the end, staff members and former students Sandy Rissler (below, left) and Jill Newton relive memories while looking at old photos, such as Jill Bonebrake (above) working with then first grader Anna Kuchler. Several of the current teachers are former students themselves. Although it is uncertian who will be transferring to Central Elementary, the staff is committed to making the transition for their students as easy as possible.
REELSVILLE -- As the school year comes to a close, many are beginning to reflect on their years at Reelsville Elementary, which will soon close its doors for good.

Like many schools across the nation today, times are tough and budget restraints are forcing them to close. The school, which has housed students and teachers for nearly 53 years, will soon close and leave many wondering what the future may hold.

The first Reelsville School was first built in 1870. The school, which was built as a two-story frame house with two rooms and an inside stairway. A fire later destroyed the building on March 2, 1945. An Army barracks was then used for nine years as a temporary location.

On Sept. 16, 1953, the current school building was started. However, it wasn't until September 1954 that students attended classes there.

Like many schools, the bad economy has hit the school corporation hard. Instead of finding alternative ways to cut costs, school board members did what they felt was best, deciding to close the school. Thus, Reelsville students will attend Central Elementary as well as South Putnam Jr.-Sr. High School in the fall.

"I would hope that when they made this decision it was with the kids' interest in mind," longtime Reelsville teacher and former student Jeff Raab said. "I cringe at the thought that everything in terms of education is decided by dollars and cents instead of what's best for kids."

As many teachers believe that closing a school is not the right thing to do, they are hoping for the best. The school has been the center of the Reelsville community since most can remember.

"When a community loses a school, they lose part of their identity," Raab said. "It's going to seem strange to know that kids don't go here."

The decline in enrollment over recent years is no doubt one of the biggest contributing factors to the school closing.

"The decline in enrollment (is one of the biggest changes)," Raab said. "There were periods of time where there were nearly 400 kids here. I guess this is the final stage."

Many, including Raab, a former Reelsville student who has taught at the school for 41 years, believe small schools provide higher-quality education. Several graduates have returned to actually teach at the school themselves.

"So many of the kids, I had their parents in school," Raab noted. "It seems to be sort of a stability thing. People appreciate that."

Small schools not only provide more individualized attention, but with Reelsville Elementary, it also has proven to be a more personal experience, teachers say.

"I think they get a lot of attention here," teacher and former Reelsville student Jill Newton said, "not just from their classroom teacher but pretty much all the teachers and the support staff. They get attention from everyone. I don't know if with bigger schools you get that."

The students are not the only ones uncertain of what the future may hold. Teachers and staff members still have not received word about whether they will be transferring to a new building or if they will be let go.

"It's just unfortunate that the powers-to-be didn't foresee that maybe it would have been a good idea to maybe have made some of these announcements earlier," Raab suggested. "This is not really a good time for that with ISTEP coming up next week for the students, and us not to know who is going with them."

Knowing that the school is closing but not knowing what members of the staff will be transferring seems to be taking a toll. Yet, the staff and students are putting on a brave face to make things as easy and comforting as possible.

"I think the decisions have been made," Newton said. "So, our job is just to make the transition as easy and as best as possible for the kids and ourselves as well. I think that with the teachers that are at Central and the teachers that are here, everyone is dedicated in making sure that the kids get what they need."

Although, many aspects of the school closing remain uncertain, a few of the Reelsville teachers plan on retiring.

Longtime teacher Jill Bonebrake and support staff members Linda Blue and Nita Houk will all be looking forward to their retirement, while Raab and Newton hope to continue on with the students.

"Seems like employees and families have stayed here," Houk explained. "Teachers that retire, retire after 30 or 40 years of working here."

"At first they were sad, but I think now I see more excitement coming from them," Newton noted. "There's been several open houses over at Central where the students and the families have been able to go and visit and see where their classes might be. That has made them more excited in looking forward to next year."

Many of the staff members feel as if the students will be fine, but are not too sure about the adults. Reelsville has been known as a safe and caring place. It has become a part of who they are.

"I think it's a place where they feel safe, and they have friends and they are treated with respect," Raab said. "I think a lot of the kids felt an ownership with the school when they went here and left here.

"I have a feeling that some day they're going to regret this," he added.

Although the school has had several changes over the years, one thing remains the same -- Reelsville is family.

Several of the teachers at Reelsville also went to the school themselves, and some even taught the parents of current students.

"That is what is nice about this school, it has such good heritage," the retiring Bonebrake said. "A lot of people went here and we taught their kids' parents and now we are teaching the parents' kids."

It is apparent that this is a school that is truly a family. Everyone knows everyone. People look out for each other.

"We're a Reelsville family," explained Houk. "We see them almost as much as our own family."

Although the school year may be coming to an end and some will be departing, Reelsville will always feel like home and hold many memories for all those who have attended the school or were lucky enough to have worked there.

"After a while it kind of just becomes a part of you," custodian Joe Sadler said. "It's just sad all the way around."

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Sad days for Reelsville's students and residents. The school is the heart of these small towns and losing their school is a crushing blow. The story says the school has housed as many as 400 students at times, but I am wondering how many students currently attend Reelsville Elementary School. I agree that small schools provide an excellent education....I am the proud product of Bainbridge High School and feel I couldn't have gotten a better education at any large school anywhere than I did at Bainbridge. Best of luck to Reelsville's students as they enter Central, and, even though I never attended Reelsville nor do I personally know anyone who did, thank you to the teachers and staff who have blessed the lives of all those students over the years.

-- Posted by kamare on Mon, Apr 30, 2012, at 6:51 AM

FYI: The Reelsville High School Alumni Association annual banquet is scheduled for June 2, 2012. (in the Reelsville gym). The Alumni Association will remain active and continue to offer scholarships to graduating South Putnam High School Seniors who are; graduates of Reelsville Elementary School and residents of Washington Township, Putnam County, Indiana.

A school closed, but not forgotten!

-- Posted by Wait a minute on Mon, Apr 30, 2012, at 9:43 AM

Worked at Reelsville for 4 years in the late 80's. That was 4 of my best years in education. Great community to work, always supported the school and school activities. Great teachers and staff, some are still there.

It is tough to lose a school, but South Putnam will take good care of the kids. It always has and always will. Good administration and good board. VERY difficult decision to make, but necessary.

Best of luck!

-- Posted by cvilleguy on Mon, Apr 30, 2012, at 11:02 AM

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