WARNER ROBINS -- Sheila Cloptons first teaching job was at Linwood Elementary School in 1983, at a time when the school mainly was made up of students from military families.
She remembers singing the national anthem with her students every morning and taking the school choir to an Atlanta Braves game every year for a decade, where they sang the anthem in front of thousands.
But what was so meaningful ... was seeing the sacrifices that those families made, said Clopton, now a music specialist at Perry Primary School.
Those former teachers, students and administrators are coming together Saturday during a reunion for the Robins Air Force Base school system, which included Linwood Elementary School from 1965 to 2001 and the former Robins Elementary School from 1963 until it closed in 2009, said Clopton, a reunion committee member who helped organize the event.
About six months ago, some school employees and alumni began talking about a reunion. Clopton reached out to former students from around the country, finding many of them through the reunions Facebook page. She expects about 225 people from at least eight states to attend the reunion, which begins at 4 p.m. Saturday at Linwood Elementary.
The timing for the reunion is appropriate, Clopton said, because the school will cease to be called Linwood Elementary by fall 2014. As part of an education sales tax project, the current Linwood school will be renovated to house students from both Linwood and Pearl Stephens elementary schools, and the Pearl Stephens name will transfer to that building.
Its a good time to remember some of the best moments from Linwood, and so many occurred when it was deemed a Department of Defense school, along with Robins Elementary, she said.
At one time, when Robins Elementary was a relatively new school, as many as 900 students attended the school on base. Over the decades, those numbers dwindled as base housing was demolished. When the school closed, an estimated 125 to 150 students were enrolled, Clopton said.
Clopton was working as a music teacher at Robins Elementary when it closed. She had transferred there from Linwood. When employees retired from the two schools, they received an engraved brass bell, and staff members who were forced to leave Robins when it closed also were given a bell. Now those former employees are part of a community group called the Bell Ringers, which meets for lunches, charitable events and support.
Nancy Hardin is also part of the Bell Ringers and has both professional and personal ties to the schools -- Hardin met her husband at Linwood Elementary School when they were both teachers. Hardin, of Warner Robins, spent 41 years teaching for the Department of Defense schools in Houston County. She started her career in 1966 as a fifth-grade teacher at Linwood, where she stayed until she transferred to Robins Elementary in 2000.
There are so many good memories, she said. I think the thing that made it the most special was that we had a large group of teachers that loved and cared for each one of our children. We understood the fact that their parents might be in harms way at any moment, and we were there for them.
Teachers also fostered a sense of patriotism among students, who sacrificed so much for their country. When Clopton taught at the schools, there was a Love America program, and students sang patriotic songs daily.
Those are experiences those kids will never, ever forget, Clopton said.
The emotional bond was also strong among the students families, Clopton said. Families who attended those schools were tight knit. They were all involved in the military and understood the struggles that one another encountered. Those families helped one another, pitching in when students mothers or fathers were deployed.
It was like one big family, Clopton said.