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Cheslakees’ bittersweet parting

Students and parents watch a video slideshow of student activities during the open house at Cheslakees Elementary School in Port McNeill. - Black Press photo
Students and parents watch a video slideshow of student activities during the open house at Cheslakees Elementary School in Port McNeill.
— image credit: Black Press photo

PORT McNEILL — The atmosphere at Cheslakees Elementary School was bittersweet last week, as former students, parents and staff attended its final “open house” before the school becomes a kindergarten and early learning centre this fall.

One of the former students visiting was Katie Addlington – soon to be a grade 11 student at North Island Secondary School. “It’s sad,” she said of the school’s closure. “Cheslakees was the best school in the world.”

Cheslakees has offered classes from kindergarten through grade five, but due to shrinking budgets and enrolment, it can no longer be maintained as an elementary school.

Starting this fall, current students will be moved to Port McNeill’s other school, Sunset Elementary.

One year earlier, the School District 85 Board of Trustees voted to close Robert Scott Elementary in Port Hardy, with the bulk of its students moving to Eagle View.

At Cheslakees last week, guests were treated to refreshments and explored the gym, where tables were set up with memorabilia from the past 22 years. Photos, donated by the school and parents, gave a glimpse into the life of Cheslakees students, while a slideshow ran in one corner of the gym. Students could also enter their name into a draw to win a Cheslakees athletic jersey.

Former students, parents and staff then gathered in the library to put their favourite memories in a time capsule and put their thumbprints on a painting of a tree, creating “leaves” which they then signed. The illustration, created by Lynda Biggs and her daughter, Jacquelyn, will remain at Cheslakees.

In the library, old videocassettes played montages of activities during students’ trips to Camp Homewood, going back to 1987. The videos also included clips from Cheslakees’ “student-led assemblies.” Mary Addison, a secretary at the school, said the assemblies “encouraged self-confidence and leadership.”

“It was something Cheslakees was really well-known for,” she said.

Jessica Petereit, who graduated from Cheslakees in 2000, stopped by with her friends to look at some old photos and put her thumbprint on the tree. When asked how it feels to be back, she laughed and said, “Everything’s tiny.”

She then looked down at her old class photo.

“I used to have so much fun here.”

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