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Students, staff say goodbye to Point Comfort Elementary

By Brian Cuaron
June 2, 2011 at 1:02 a.m.

Only a few chairs remain in an otherwise empty classroom at Point Comfort Elementary School on the last day of school. Originally opened in 1952, the school is shutting down because of budget cuts.

POINT COMFORT - Laughter turned to tears on Thursday as students said goodbye to Point Comfort Elementary for the last time.

But one instructional aide wasn't having it.

"Come here," Jamie Grasse ordered one sobbing second-grader, "Come here, come here."

Immediately, Grasse wrapped her arms around the child and whispered into her ear. The scene repeated itself as, one after another, students walked up with watery eyes seeking a hug.

"I'm just telling them that they're ready to go," Grasse said. "Some of these kids you may not see again."

The elementary school was shuttered by the Calhoun County Independent School District because of finances. The district cut 5 percent of its budget in expectation of state budget cuts and had an $800,000 deficit to deal with, Superintendent Billy Wiggins said.

Only 89 students attended the school this year, which provided pre-kindegarten through fifth-grade services. With seven teachers, three instructional aides and one secretary, the school had a low teacher-to-student ratio.

That made it costlier to educate a child there than it does at the district's two bigger elementary schools in Port Lavaca, Wiggins said.

However, some say the small-school atmosphere was what made Point Comfort Elementary special.

"Small schools result in family atmospheres," said Annette Matula, the school's secretary.

School staff tried to give the students a happy send off by holding a "memory party" on Thursday. Staff members handed out games and pixie sticks, and let the students play bingo.

Later, the fifth-graders gathered in Mary Holloway's classroom one more time, some promising to keep in touch.

"We're going to text each other every single day," said fifth-grader April Wilson.

Lauryn Moreno, 11, attended the school for seven years. She said that all the students looked out for one another, and that she was half happy and half sad to be leaving.

A little while later, Lauryn walked up to Grasse with tears in her eyes.

Leann Stavinoha's 9-year-old son attended the school for three years, and she has been involved with the local PTA during that time. She called Thursday a "sad day."

"I felt like my son was taken care of by family and not just at school," Stavinoha said. "Having a small school, to me, has made a big difference to all these kids."

The school's closure has had a big effect on the workers as well. Of the 11 staff members, only Holloway has found a job.

"We don't know where the next paycheck is going to come from," said Grasse, who has worked at the school for 15 years after her son attended there.

Yet that hasn't broken the close bond between staff. Teachers said that when one hears of a job opening, they make sure everyone knows about it.

And the school's closure didn't change the staff's attitude toward the students.

In between comforting second-graders afraid of going to a bigger school next year, and fifth-graders feeling a nostalgia for the past, Grasse promised that workers at Point Comfort Elementary will continue to look after its students.

"Just because we're not going to be here doesn't mean we're not going to look for them in the paper," she said. "They're not rid of us yet."

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