Krista Hoy has made the short walk from the parking lot into Broken Arrow Elementary School in Lawrence for 25 years.
On Wednesday, she entered the building as a teacher for the final time, alongside a slew of emotional colleagues and students. Broken Arrow is closing after this year.
As the school community embraced, cried and celebrated all at once in the morning, they carried a common message: We will always be Broken Arrow Eagles.
“This is my family. I’ve never taught anywhere but here,” said Hoy, who has taught kindergarten and first and third grade. “I’ve made some very dear, sweet best friends here. I figured out the other day that I have taught over 500 students.”
The school board voted earlier this year to close Broken Arrow and Pinckney elementary schools as part of a package of budget cuts.
Students, some laughing and some crying, reminisced outside the building about their time at Broken Arrow, while hugging teachers and taking photos with friends.
“I will remember all the fun memories we’ve gotten to do with the class,” fifth-grader LeBaron Bonner said.
LeBaron was with two friends who are graduates of Broken Arrow and now sixth graders at Billy Mills Middle School.
“I remember all of the times getting to work with the teachers I really liked,” said Murphy Berquist-Haxton, one of the Broken Arrow graduates. “It was just so fun.”
Hoy, who will teach at Langston Hughes next year, said that over her 25 years, Broken Arrow stood out because it always prioritized its students.
“We put the kids first, no matter what,” Hoy said. “The kids and the families come first and we rally around them and we really teach them where they’re at. …When the children feel safe, they can learn and Broken Arrow is a safe place for everyone.”
Hoy and other teachers have been invited to family weddings, birthdays and more as a part of the Broken Arrow community.
“It’s my family,” said Kathy Brown, a fourth and fifth grade teacher. “And I know people say that all the time, but it’s true.”
Brown will retire at the end of this year, a decision she accelerated after Broken Arrow was set to close.
“We’ve grown a lot, we’ve grown so much over the eight years that I’ve been here, so it’s been nice to see the changes and the staff becoming more cohesive with each other,” Brown said. “Feeling good about coming to work each day, instead of it being a job, it’s just fun.”
Josh Newman walked his daughter, first grader Eleanor Newman, into school for the final time this morning carrying a box of supplies for the Eagle Extravaganza assembly.
Eleanor said Hoy, who was her kindergarten teacher last year, was her favorite teacher. She had hoped to be her student again later, now that Hoy had moved up to teach third grade.
During the day, students and staff celebrated the completion of another year by signing their names on each others’ “Once an Eagle always an Eagle” T-shirts.
They eventually settled in the gymnasium for the school-wide Eagle Extravanganza assembly, which featured classes performing skits, songs, dances and more for their peers.
Kathy Meyer’s second grade class formed a line, and each said one word that described what Broken Arrow meant to them.
“Thoughtfulness, imagination, effort, honesty, creativity, courage, kindness, agreeable, perseverance, patience, love,” the students listed, one by one.
The assembly concluded with a video summarizing the school year in pictures, bringing many staff members to tears.
Students and teachers began slowly exiting the school building and meeting their families and community. Emotions were mixed between end-of-school joy and sadness for the end of Broken Arrow as art teacher Jacob Lewis serenaded the crowd with his guitar.
“I can’t even put into words what a community this is,” Hoy said. “We work really hard and we really focus on the community and relationships, and I think we’ve helped a lot of children and families grow. It’s a devastating loss to the community, but I just appreciate the family and all the support.”
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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.