Robins Elementary closes its doors after 45 years

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE — The announcement that came over the intercom Friday at Robins Elementary School was bittersweet: “School is out. Have a great summer!”

But for this school, school is out for good.

Student desks were cleaned during the last few afternoon hours and teachers reminisced about favorite experiences.

“I just noticed that it’s quiet today,” said Robins principal Melissa Hayes. “It’s more quiet than usual on the last day of school. It just seems like the students know this is the final day.”

Due to a decline over the last few years of families living in base housing, base officials decided earlier this year to close Robins Elementary, which served students in pre-K through sixth grade. School enrollment had also dropped in the last few years, with 125 students enrolled this year.

“Of course the parents are disappointed,” Hayes continued. “This is a base where people typically come and stay for a little while. This is like family, a community, and they’re disappointed they’ll no longer have that community school.”

Carol Garland has taught at the school for 38 years. Her eyes got a bit misty as she thought about her memories at Robins Elementary.

“I just feel like our school has been a ‘huggy’ school. Everybody wants to be friendly, to hug each other, to help each other,” she said.

Kathleen Wolfe, whose son Fletcher was in the fourth grade, described the school’s teachers, parents and students as a family. “We both really enjoyed it. I had tears in my eyes this morning,” she said.

When her husband deployed overseas for 70 days in the middle of this past school year, she said her son missed seven days that were forgiven by the school.

“At any one time, 25 percent at least have a parent deployed, and they worked around it,” Wolfe said of school administrators.

Fletcher, like many of his classmates who attend many schools, attended five different schools in six years. Friday, his backpack was overloaded with school supplies, books, papers and class projects, yet the youngster had a small grin on his face as he collected the remainder of his belongings.

“I’m really happy school’s over, but sad it’s closing because this was my first year here,” he said.

Open houses had been held at area schools for students who will transfer within Houston County, said Hayes, the school principal. The school’s staff included about 20 teachers, many of whom plan to retire or are awaiting open positions in Houston County or at other Department of Defense schools.

A physical education teacher at Robins for 19 years, Deborah Hogan was able to secure a job at Gordon Elementary School in Fort Bragg, N.C.

“They’re just fantastic,” she said of the Robins students. “They’re so eager to learn and they’re so loving, and they need love,” she said. “It’s family.”

Choral director and music teacher Sheila Clopton was able to find a position with Perry Primary School, where she will teach kindergarten and fourth-grade students.

For the past 10 years, Robins choral students sang the national anthem at Atlanta Braves games at Turner Field. Trips like the one taken earlier this year with more than 150 supporters was common, she said.

“We’ve been there through all those mountaintops and valleys of life together,” said Clopton, who taught at Robins for more than 26 years. “It’s tough. It’s a breakup of a family. We’ve all lit a candle and we’re taking it to wherever we’re going. We’ve been touched by that light of Robins Elementary.”

Robins was one of 66 schools operating under the Department of Defense’s Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools.

“The kids are going to an excellent school system so you know they’re going to get a great education,” said assistant principal Brian Perry. “Just saying goodbye to a part of Robins that’s been here for 45 years, that’s the hard part.”

The school was originally housed in a warehouse on base in 1963 and began operating in 1964, when 635 students were registered to attend. During its 45-year history, nearly 10,000 students had passed through its doors.

To contact writer Jenny Gordon, call 923-3109, extension 240.