The final days for Rising Star Elementary presented unique, unexpected challenges, but ultimately, the building received a proper farewell.
Delayed for a week after a sewer backup, the “A Fond Farewell to Rising Star” event took place Thursday, May 12 on the school’s campus in Platte City. Students, teachers (past and present), officials and alumni overcrowded the parking lot to take one final chance to remember a historic part of the Platte County R-3 School District’s history.
Platte City Elementary opened in 1954 and slowly underwent a series of changes eventually becoming Rising Star — the district’s kindergarten only facility for the past 14 years. The final day of classes were held in the building Tuesday, May 17.
Through all the changes, the last class of students at Rising Star held some things in common with the first who started there 62 years ago.
“The things they were thinking about and going through as they walked up that front sidewalk (in 1954), the next 61 years didn’t change. They still had fears, concerns, anticipation, joy,” said former building principal Ron Harmon, who came to the district in 1985. “Those exact same things have existed every day for 62 years in this building, although many other things have changed in that time.”
The farewell event featured old photos and yearbooks on display, but most gathered on the old playground to listen to Harmon and other guests talk about their memories from the building.
The conclusion included a performance of songs from the final class of kindergarten students, including their rendition of “What a Wonderful World.” Afterward, the crowd slowly dispersed, although some took the chance to walk around the school yard or go into the classrooms to gaze around and reminisce about time spent there.
The district plans to discontinue Rising Star as an attendance center after this school year. The district remains in the process of finishing construction on Compass Elementary, which along with Siegrist Elementary, will be a K-5 facility in Platte City. The work is part of a $29 million capital improvement project funded through a tax levy passed in April of 2015.
Part of the reason for the new building centered around not sinking money into an aging facility like Rising Star, which opened as a K-6 facility back in 1954. Many of the systems, including the water and sewage, were outdated and would have been costly to fully replace.
“This is a bittersweet event. So many memories with this building,” Platte County R-3 School District superintendent Dr. Mike Reik said. “It is bittersweet to say goodbye, but at the same time, we are excited about our future and the next chapter in our lives.”
The grades served at Rising Star Elementary continued to dwindle over its 60-plus years in the ever-growing district.
The building originally opened serving grades one through six before kindergarten was considered a part of the public education system. By 1997, only first grade and kindergarten were at Platte City Elementary with its name changed to Rising Star, and five years later, first grade was moved out as well.
The district constantly reorganized the building, leaving those who attended there with distinctly unique experiences. Sharon Sherwood, current Platte County Board of Education president, was one of the first students to go there and later had two grandsons who took kindergarten classes in the same classroom she did in second grade.
“As I volunteered in that classroom, I would often daydream — as I probably often did in second grade — about my experiences in that classroom,” Sherwood said. “I have old memories and new memories, but recalling memories of school days is a way of holding on to the love and the things you never want to lose.”
Rising Star closed for three days following the sewer backup on Tuesday, May 3, and originally, officials feared the building might have to permanently close earlier than expected.
Some physical signs of water damage were evident, and some of the building’s baseboards and carpet were removed. However, testing deemed the facility safe, and classes reopened there on Monday, May 9 with the final seven days of class able to go on as normal.
That allowed for the final farewell event, which was also in doubt. Hundreds showed up to take one last look at an aging relic that served the community for more than six decades.
Fittingly, words from a well-known children’s author helped close the book on Rising Star’s chapter in Platte County R-3 history
“As these doors are closed for the last time this school year, let us remember some of my favorite words by Dr. Seuss: ‘Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened,’” former teacher Paula Roberts told the crowd.