Tearful hugs, excited children, thank-you notes and the final singing of the school song made up the last day of school Thursday at Fowler Elementary School.
It’s been that way — family-style celebrations and bittersweet goodbyes — since the school on Trimmier Road opened in 1956 on a barren patch of ground in the growing town of Killeen.
This last day was different, though, according to the faculty and staff who have worked at Fowler for 20, 30 and 40 years. This was the last last day.
The Killeen Independent School District is closing its smallest school and will open its newest, already named Dr. Joseph Fowler Elementary School in a budding new subdivision off Clear Creek Road in southwest Killeen.
For Fowler music teacher Lillian Billie, finishing her 42nd year of teaching and 39th at Fowler, it will be her first experience teaching in a new school in a new music room.
She woke up at 4 in the morning Thursday, unable to go back to sleep because of all that was going through her mind.
She took a break from packing boxes to reflect in the middle of the school day. “Lots of memories,” she said, pointing out a music box thought to be an antique and a poster of the school song, which she detached from the wall.
“During the school song this morning I had to brace myself,” Billie said. Principal Debbie Drever led the school in singing the song over the intercom as office staff members marched about waving pompoms.
“I look at it and think about all we did with it,” the music teacher said of the materials for games, the music and the supplies she packed up to move to the new school. The piano in her portable classroom will go with her, too.
“We’re transitioning into something new,” she said. “It’s always difficult to go to another level. That’s the way it is with life.”
Second-grade teacher Sherri O’Quinn, a 34-year Fowler teacher, also was navigating the mixed emotions of closing a beloved building and preparing to open a new one.
Like everyone associated with Fowler, O’Quinn said she stayed at the little school because of the atmosphere that exudes family closeness. “It’s all about the kids and it’s been that way from the start,” she said. “It’s the climate of the school when you walk in the building.”
This last day of school was different, with a tension between excitement and longing and an anticipation of a final tearful goodbye, not to each other, but to the walls and classrooms and the memories that permeate the brightly painted hallways.
Kathy Latimer, a 23-year Fowler teacher, said she started packing after spring break and was amazed at how much she had left to do. “It hasn’t hit me yet,” she said of the historic last day. “It’s been a great school.”
She said the excitement of opening a new school was tempered by the sadness of knowing they were saying goodbye to their students. “The sad part is we won’t see these kids next year. I will miss the small, neighborhood school. It feels cozy.”
Billie Bundrant, media aide at Fowler for 38 years, understands the cozy feel of the school. She started working at the school in 1976 just to have a job. “Fowler is a family-oriented school,” she said. “That closeness will be missed. The best part is we’re moving together. Our little school will just be a bigger school.”
Drever said the staff has prepared students and themselves for much of the semester to get to the end of the school year.
She was grateful for last month’s closing ceremonies where hundreds of residents took part in a ceremony to share past memories of Fowler.
“We have high expectations,” she said. “We’re ready for the move. We did it. Now it’s time to pack up and get ready.” School starts Aug. 25.