Friday marked the last day of homework and exams for Richmond County elementary and middle schools. It was also the final day for all grade levels in Columbia County. It was a day of celebration for some and reflection for others.
The last day of seventh-grade language arts class at Murphey Middle School on Friday was one for reflection.
Teacher Ann Lewis had her class present newsletters they designed with their best memories of the year.
Some students talked about what they learned from their favorite teachers. Others talked about the field day.
Tylonda Bell reveled in the memory of Pie Day, when students had the chance to smash cream pies into their teachers’ faces.
“It was a surreal moment,” Bell said. “Revenge is sweet.”
As the dismissal bell was about to ring at 1:30 p.m., a crowd of students huddled around Jamieson Brown with blue and black markers.
They pulled at his red polo T-shirt and scribbled their goodbyes and signatures so Brown could keep his friends close all summer.
But wouldn’t his momma be angry about a ruined polo?
“She ain’t gonna be upset because I’m gonna say my friends signed my shirt because I miss them,” Brown explained. “She’s gonna know how much it means.”
Charlee Vaughan, a fourth-grader, said she will miss her friends and teachers during the summer. To remember them, she created her own yearbook and roamed the hallways of Brookwood Elementary School in Columbia County Friday morning getting signatures.
Still, the 9-year-old said she’s ready for fifth grade.
“I want to make some new friends and meet my new teachers,” she said.
Friday also marked a milestone for Brookwood Elementary Principal Brenda Jones.
After a career of more than 40 years, Jones is retiring. Her final day is Wednesday.
During an afternoon talent show, pupils and faculty planned to present Jones with a painting to better remember them.
Each branch of the gold and brown tree in the painting, sitting atop a grassy mound with a purple sky as a backdrop, represented the school’s grade levels, said Brookwood art teacher Deborah Sailors.
Members of the Brookwood staff each painted a section, and pupils painted leaves inscribed with their names and pasted them to the artwork.
“Mrs. Jones always has been such a big supporter of the arts and arts education,” Sailors said. “We wanted to do something arts oriented to honor her.”
Friday’s dismissal bell should have been the last one Garrett Elementary Principal Paula Kaminski would ever ring.
Earlier this year Kaminski announced that she would retire after 30 years in education.
She helped the Augusta school achieve Adequate Yearly Progress and oversaw the construction of the brand new school.
“I always thought at 30 years ‘Bye, bye, don’t let the door hit me on the backside,’” Kaminski said.
But after more thought and more heartache, Kaminski decided to remain at Garrett a little longer.
She put her retirement on hold to spend a little more time doing what she loves.
“I didn’t have it in me to go,” she said. “I just had this fire still within me. I couldn’t leave.”
Some students at Garrett wished the last day of school could last forever.
As bleachers full of parents, teachers and classmates watched, students took turns playing Ultimate Handball, a game in which teams try to pass a ball to the end zone without getting tagged.
The crowd cheered and stomped their feet as dozens of pairs of feet scurried on the court.
“It’s fun and my heart was beating,” said student Joshua Ivey. “It gives us a chance to play and run with friends.”
The game was one of the last chances fifth-grader Coleman Flemming would have to spend with friends before summer. When they go back to school in August, many of the rising sixth-graders will be at different schools.
“I might not see my friends again, so I’m excited for summer but I’m sad too,” he explained. “But it’s mostly excitement on this day.”
Bel Air Elementary Principal Mark Boyd also intends to retire in a few days. He spent his last day feeding students cotton candy and watching them bounce on inflatable playground attractions.
“It’s kind of a mixture of emotions,” Boyd said of his mood on Friday afternoon. “I know I’m ready to say my goodbyes, but I’m going to miss the staff and I’m going to miss the kids.”
Next school year might be the last for Bel Air Elementary. School officials intend to close the school and rezone its pupils to new Evans and Martinez elementary schools.
Boyd said he initially considered staying for Bel Air’s final year.
“At first, we thought this was going to be the last year. ... I thought I’d be retiring in that last year and already started making plans for my retirement,” he said.
Knowing he’ll be in the last class of fifth-graders ever to attend Bel Air Elementary saddened Jacob Strickland.
“I’m going to miss it,” the 9-year-old said. “I’ve always gone to this school. My mom went to this school. I don’t want to see it gone.”