Article by Steven Collins, Circleville Herald Senior Reporter
November 14, 2022
WILLIAMSPORT — Twenty years ago this year, Westfall Elementary opened, condensing the three elementary schools into one building.
Since that time two of the 13 original staff members still at the school reflected on how the district has grown and changed.
Jackie Eitel and Velvet O’Day are among the 13 staff members still at the school, which also includes David Dollison, Kathy Fausnaugh, Amy Kemp, Eileen Rader, Marcia Ruff, Joy Sharrett, Marci Wippel, Carole Moore, Janet Adams, Connie Angles, and Lynn Huffer.
The three elementary schools were Jackson Elementary located on the corner of state Route 104 and Florence Chapel Pike, Darby Elementary located on London Road in Derby, and Monroe Elementary located on state Route 56 West at Five Points.
“They were beautiful buildings, big classrooms, large cloakrooms, wooden floors, warm and inviting,” Eitel said. “Each building had its own personality and was the hub of their communities. Each staff always maintained a family-based environment and took care of the students and one another.”
O’Day shared that the ambiance of the wood made them stand out and a home for students who visited.
“Those buildings were historical artifacts of those who taught there or received their education there,” she said. “Each building was originally a high school. It was a very emotional experience to walk the halls and classrooms for one last time. Visitors wrote messages on the chalkboards. My classroom had the old black slate chalkboard and my message on my last visit read “Memories imprint our lives forever, farewell my 2nd home.”
Eitel said while the buildings were beautiful they were in need of repair, hence the change.
“They were finding themselves beyond repair,” she said. “They had leaking windows, damaged ceilings, a lot of things were in need of constant repair. Darby even had a coal furnace.”
O’Day said it was important to provide the students with a safe place to learn.
“The windows contained no screens, which was a safety issue on a hot day when windows needed to be opened on the 2nd and 3rd floors,” she said. “When you walked the wooden staircase, you could actually feel the stairs give way and shake. As technology was finding its way into businesses and schools, the schools didn’t have the capability of sustaining high-tech requirements for electrical outlets or wiring. Many classrooms only had two outlets.
It was then that O’Day said the community got an offer from the Ohio Schools Facility Commission they couldn’t refuse and as part of it the old structures had to be demolished.
With the new buildings, O’Day said that brought excitement.
“The new building stirred excitement like getting a new car or toy,” She said. “Everything was colorful, bright, shiny, and had that new smell. The new building, desks, bookshelves, cabinets, and classroom furnishings provided an overloaded sensory experience. Preschool and kindergarten classrooms had bathrooms while every classroom included a sink with a water fountain.
With that, brought three staffs and student bodies into one.
“The first Westfall Elementary Principal, Donna Ball, who was also a Westfall graduate, planned and orchestrated team building training and professional development to make this new blended staff a unified group,” O’Day said. “You can’t fully understand this challenging task unless you experienced the “growing pains” of this magnitude on this adventure.”
Eitel said her favorite thing included was the décor of each wing.
“Each wing is based on a color; yellow, green, and red,” she said. “The main door frames and tiling on the floors highlighted the color of each wing. The walls were painted with special paint and were splatter painted to incorporate all of the primary colors. I also love the windows in our library area. It is such a beautiful view and a great feature of our building.”
Since then, education has continued to evolve and things at Westfall Elementary are no different.
“As education continues to evolve, we have already experienced many changes in these 20 years,” O’Day said. “Smartboards were installed in classrooms, Chromebook carts are a part of daily school life for most, Google classroom, video conferencing, and additional services are provided for students and families. This year a mobile dentist has been scheduled for families that wish to use the service.
I believe the Westfall School District and Board of Education have done an excellent job at evaluating change and preparing for changes whether it is facilities, curriculum, or staffing. Change is inevitable and you have to be willing to embrace it. Education is an extremely challenging and ever-changing profession.”
Eitel said now the district is moving forward with additional facilities as the district has grown. A new structure connecting the high school and middle school is under construction.
“Having space for additional learning and community events will only strengthen the bond that the residents have with the district,” Eitel said. “It also adds to the campus atmosphere that we have and allows for students from all three buildings to interact. I would love to see some kind of paved walkways that would connect all three buildings so students and staff can get to all of the buildings with safe and easy access. As far as the elementary building, our staff does an excellent job on the maintenance and upkeep of the facility. The staff still refers to it as “the new building” despite it being 20 years old.”
Eitel said it was hard for her to believe it’s been 20 years and she’s looking forward to the time capsule ceremony in 10 years.
“Time really does pass quickly,” she said. “One of my favorite memories that the staff and students did in the early years was burying a time capsule. The time capsule burial ceremony was held on May 31, 2007. It is supposed to be opened in the year 2032. I know that there will be many people who will look forward to that event as they reminisce on the memories of the past.”