On Sunday, five old friends visited the place where their friendship was born.
It was a classroom in Mattie Wells Elementary School in Jones County, where Sharon Williams Tinnan taught fourth grade for 12 years. Tinnan, who now works as a librarian in Paulding County, was reunited Sunday with former students Jennifer Gale, 29, Amber Leskis, 30, and Marie Gilbert, 26. Tinnan’s 27-year-old daughter, Candace Foster, completed the circle of friends. She went to Mattie Wells also.
The five have been through a lot together. Gale leaned on her friends when her mother died after an extended illness. Tinnan cleared the path for Gilbert to become the Jones County school system’s first deaf student. They were there for each other’s weddings and babies.
“In this school, this is where it all began,” Leskis said.
The five friends had come to Mattie Wells to say goodbye to the building that has meant so much in their lives. The school hosted a special homecoming program Sunday because soon the 47-year-old building will shut its doors for good. The last day for students is June 4. Sometime this summer, the building, located on Ga. 49 in south Jones County, will be razed.
Currently, Mattie Wells Elementary serves grades three through five. Kindergarten through second grade are taught at Wells Primary School, which opened next door in 2002. Next year, Wells Primary, with the help of portable classrooms, will serve grades kindergarten through fifth.
The lunchroom of Mattie Wells Elementary on Sunday afternoon was packed with teachers, administrators and former students. They enjoyed cake, punch and cheese straws as they reminisced about all the laughter, tears and learning that have taken place there. The bulletin boards had been covered with photocopies of yearbook pages dating back decades. Former teachers made speeches and the school’s cheerleading squad gave one last hurrah.
“I’m not going to be able to watch when they tear it down,” said Debbie Howe, who has taught at Mattie Wells Elementary for 30 years. Howe plans to teach third grade at Wells Primary next year.
“This school is like a family. It has a real family atmosphere,” she said. “When something happens, it happens to all of us. So we celebrate together and we cry together.”