Washington – goodbye and hello: Retirees recall glory days of schoolLooking back over the past seven decades at Washington Elementary School (WES) in Alexandria, there is one thing that stands out the most for three former staff members – the students.
By: Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press
Looking back over the past seven decades at Washington Elementary School (WES) in Alexandria, there is one thing that stands out the most for three former staff members – the students.
Lois Peterson, a former special education paraprofessional at WES, said she felt “very privileged to work with the kids at Washington.”
Although Peterson is officially retired, she still works as a substitute teacher at WES on an as-needed basis.
“As long as my health allows, I will keep subbing,” said Peterson, who began her WES career in 1994.
In the early 1970s, she was a teacher in Forada and she also worked as a teacher in South Dakota for a couple of years.
Besides missing her students, Peterson misses the atmosphere of the school and all the staff members she worked with through the years.
“The staff really cared for each other,” she recalled, noting that the caring attitude was carried on through the students as well.
Being a paraprofessional wasn’t Peterson’s only duty, she also got to “work” outside on the playground during lunch and recess.
“It was a real privilege working at Washington,” said Peterson. “From working with some of the most wonderful teachers to working with the students. I miss the kids the most, of course. But the staff at WES had a real purpose.”
Paul Olinger, who was the elementary school’s principal from 1986 to 2001, also commented on the fun memories he had of WES.
He not only has fond and fun memories of students, but of staff members and parents, as well.
One of his fondest memories and one of the most “fun things the school did,” said Olinger, was participate in the homecoming festivities each year.
As with many students, when asked what his favorite thing about school was, Olinger said, “I still miss recess!”
He misses being with the kids out on the playground – whether it was helping them solve problems or pitching softballs to them, he always enjoyed recess.
“Being with the children is what kept me in education,” said Olinger, who now lives near Battle Lake and spends his time volunteering with environmental groups.
Becoming a teacher happened entirely by chance for Olinger, who has a background in psychology. He noted that he was actually ready to go into anthropology, but fate – or maybe it was a friend – stepped in and opened his eyes to teaching.
“I fell in love with education,” said Olinger, who called his profession a “perfect fit.”
He also noted that he is excited for the school district and its new elementary school.
“Washington definitely served its purpose,” he said.
For 35 years, Bob Iverson spent his days teaching music to students at WES. Now retired, he spends his time working for Allied Concert Services.
His family has a strong value for education; his father was a superintendent before becoming the owner of a music store and his grandmother was a teacher. And on his mother’s side of the family, eight out of the 11 siblings were teachers.
During his teaching career, Iverson played a key role in how music was taught at WES, as well as how it was taught around the state.
He spent time on the committee that wrote the state’s curriculum for music.
Much of what he knows about teaching music, he owes to Mary Helen Richards, the creator of Education Through Music and founding director of the Richards Institute of Education and Research.
Working with Richards, Iverson said, helped put WES on the fast track. He said it was a national lab for teaching music back in his day.
“The idea,” Iverson said of music curriculum, “was to develop a life-long love of good music and music literacy.”
Although his ambition and goal was to become either a high school or even college band or orchestra director, it was because of his involvement and career with Richards that he chose elementary music education.
His memories of WES include the time he spent with the students and teachers.
“There was really a feeling of a team,” he said. “One of my fondest memories is back in the 60s and 70s when all the teachers would meet in the kitchen. We talked and shared about all the good, as well as our frustrations.”
He also remembers how teachers used to dress. In the 1960s, he recalled how all the male teachers wore white shirts and ties and sometimes, a sports jacket.
In the 1970s, the white shirts were out and colored shirts were in. Ties were also out.
For female teachers, dresses were always worn, until pantsuits came along.
“Now, it’s very casual,” Iverson said of the clothing.
Another memory for Iverson is the boiler and how the custodians used to clean it. He also remembers how iffy it used to be – some rooms were hot, while others were not.
With WES closing after more than 70 years, Iverson said he has been flooded with memories and emotions. There are so many memories for him – mostly good, but unfortunately, some bad.
He recalled that the school lost at least two students – one was killed in an automobile accident and another was lost in a drowning incident. He remembered that trees were planted in their memory.
Regardless of the path he thought he was going to take in life, Iverson said WES was a great place to be and he is happy for all the memories that he will treasure for the rest of his life.