Jorge, my neighbor in Hacienda Heights, posted the news on Facebook last June. He didn’t have any news about the school board vote. Adrian confirmed the news a few days later on our way to pick up some burgers.
“I saw Mr. S and he told me.”
Mr. S, Adrian’s sixth grade teacher, confirmed what I’d initially taken for a rumor.
“So what’s the bungalow in the kindergarten playground for?”
“I don’t know.”
Later, I’d read an article in the Whittier Daily News about the school closure and school board vote. Drat. It was really official now.
Glenelder Elementary, home of the Chargers, sits a block away from my parent’s home. It was close enough for me to make the short walk alone twice a day, sometimes four when I would go home for lunch.
All four of us Mosqueda kids attended kindergarten through sixth grade there (except Lori, she transferred for her final year). We often had the same teachers. Our involvement with the school extended to my mother who was active in the PTA. She was even the president at one point and was honored by a former principal for her service.
In my seven years at Glenelder, I came to love school and so much more. I learned to see myself as Danny’s nerdy and shy little sister. I was scolded by teachers for talking too much, which my mom later insisted was only because I was smart, done with my work and thus bored. (Thanks for defending me, mom!) Later, a teacher recommended I be tested for the GATE program and I began to be tracked as one of the smart kids. Glenelder is where I learned to compete with other top students like Jason and Jessica to be the smartest in my class. I wasn’t always confident. In second grade, I skipped a reading lesson with Mr. Cantu because I didn’t want the third graders to make fun of me for not knowing how to write in cursive nor use a dictionary.
I can still recite all of my teachers in order: Mrs. Draughn, Mrs. Flamenbaum, Ms. Buxton, Ms. Butcher, Mrs. Springfield [RIP] and Mrs. Miller for fifth and sixth grade.
Despite my connection to Glenelder and penchant for nostalgia, the news of the closure didn’t affect me much initially. In the past few years, I’ve become somewhat inured to stories about the negative effects of revenue shortfalls and massive budget gaps. Glenelder and it’s decreasing student body was just another casualty, I figured.
When I returned to HH, Glenelder looked the same as always. Since I’m rarely around during week days, I was accustomed to the absence of children and the empty parking lot.
The physical changes, and sense of loss, came a few weeks later. First, workers began to dig up the playground equipment. Piles of dirt surrounded the swings, slides and other relatively new equipment in the main playground. I played on the swings with Sean despite this in an effort to cheer myself after Mexico’s loss to Argentina in the knock-out round of the World Cup. Pumping my legs up and down, laying back and feeling the warm sun on my bare legs didn’t fail me. For the past ten years, I’ve gone to the swings whenever I felt down. When I left the playground that afternoon, I didn’t realize the swings would likely be gone by the time I returned to Hacienda Heights.
A few weeks later, I was home again. As usual, I took VR for a walk and caught up on some short podcasts. We walked usual route around to and around the school. VR paused as he always does at the lawn outside the kindergarten classrooms. From here, I could see through the chain-link fence. The playground was gone. No swings, no slides, no jungle gyms or platforms to climb, no sand and no wood chips. Just dirt.
VR pulled me along.
I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I wasn’t a kid anymore.
[Note: the K-5 students at Glenelder were sent to Cedarlane, the school where I attended middle school.]