Goodbye and hello to Westwood View

So long, old Westwood View! Tomorrow is the last day the 50+ year old building will be the home of the neighborhood elementary school that I attended as a kid and where my own kids go now. I have to admit I’m a bit heartbroken about the quaint old place being torn down, so I thought I’d channel that toward remembering some of the unique things about it. Feel free to chime in with your own memories or tributes as well.

But first, some things that I’ll miss…

The building itself: The building is made up of two octagonal pods resting on either side of a hill, with narrow hallways, rows of lockers, and a massive gymnasium with a knotted rope and basketball goals, one of which was apparently signed by KU basketball player Jerod Haase. Our gym teacher used to put on the record to “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys and make us run laps to start the period. I never know why she chose this song but to this day when I hear it played I instinctively move to the perimeter of the building and begin running laps. The classrooms are not large, but the high ceilings create a sense of security and openness that always seemed like a stark contrast to the more confined classrooms at other schools.

The school grounds: When I was a kid, you weren’t a true kickball hero until you’d landed at least one utility ball on the roof. Tetherball was marked by epic rivalries, and four-square competition was intense. Today my kids play a lot of gaga-ball, and after they taught me how to play I can see why. Many of the massive oak trees I played under as a kid are still standing today, and another classmate pointed out one to me recently where his gang of friends, “The Mini-Spies,” used to gather to plot imaginative mischief. The lower playground equipment has changed, but used to be the home of a climbing structure called “The Spider” due to its shape. We also used to build homes for squirrels out of woodchips, decorated with tiny furniture and artwork. The upper parking lots are where many a kid has learned how to ride a bike on weekends or evenings. Just last week the school grounds were home to the school carnival complete with a dunk tank and cakewalk. Many of the trees have plaques in tribute of past teachers and students. There’s so much history here and it’s hard not to imagine these school grounds buzzing with life.

The composite pictures: The school itself predates the existing building, and class pictures line the hallways from 1938 to the present. The children in the oldest pictures look so much older than any kids today, thanks to the faded sepia photographs, changing styles, and formal attire. When I’ve been back in the school I always stop to find my class picture or those of my siblings, remembering names and faces I’ve forgotten, snapping a picture to send to friends I still talk to, and remembering those who are no longer with us. I’m sure most kids walk past them without a second thought – we didn’t pay them much attention either except maybe to make fun of an odd photo or two – but if you think about it, it’s a pretty intense thing to have that many faces staring out at all times. Not quite Hogwarts-level eerie, but definitely something that contributes to the atmosphere and generational continuity of this small neighborhood school.

The memories: Too many to recount, but a few that have come up recently include playing Oregon Trail on the old Apple computers, shooting hundreds of pounds of Buffalo meat even though I could only carry 6. Kindergarten, where we watched baby chicks hatch in the incubator and made a paper-mache unicorn inspired by the Shel Silverstein poem/song. D.A.R.E. assemblies where kids performed songs pledging to stay drug-free (with eventual mixed results). The bright yellow ribbons we got to pin on and take home when we were “child of the day.” And the smiling blue and yellow python mascot you still see today.

Mostly, I remember Westwood View as an encouraging and welcoming place that lived up to the closing lyrics of the school song, “At Westwood View, you can’t go wrong.” My teachers got me interested in science, math, and reading, but also made sure that if I hurt someone’s feelings, I understood what I had done wrong and apologized for it. I got in trouble for a few things over the years (throwing food, giving a substitute teacher a false name, writing and performing a rap song with explicit lyrics, lol) but was never made to feel like a bad person for it. The school had a maternal feel, as the teachers were mostly women, but there were always a few male teachers or administrators to play football with or set you straight or tell you about the birds and the bees with the aid of super old-fashioned filmstrips.

What’s remarkable to me now — nearly 30 years after my own sixth-grade graduation, and with my own kids in 2nd and 4th grade — is how little things there have changed. The faces and names are different, but the teachers are still fantastic, caring, and dedicated to what they do. During the pandemic, teachers, staff, and administrators faced all kinds of extra challenges, navigating remote school, health concerns and protocols, and masks. But they worked through it and our kids come home each day energized by what they’ve learned, what projects they’re working on, and what they’ll be doing tomorrow. At a time when nothing in the world has seemed “normal,” this is something I’ll always be grateful for.

Another thing that makes Westwood View special is the involvement of the parents. Walking through the front doors last week, I was instantly reminded of my mom, who helped put that mosaic together a couple decades ago and who was active in school events for nearly two decades. I remember her staying up late to paint the backdrops to the school carnival, helping to design the yearbook, or playing piano at a school concert. Her contributions then remind me of the many current parents who make the Westwood View experience fun, educational, and sometimes even magical for kids — I could name a bunch of names, but who you know who you are. I’m sure that spirit of parental involvement will continue to thrive in the new building.

So, as sad as I am to bid farewell to the old building, I can tell from talking with my kids, their teachers, and the principal how excited they all are to make use of the new facilities, rooms, and resources. And most importantly, the new building ensures that the school will thrive for many years to come — something that seemed in doubt not that long ago.

Lately a number of the big trees I walked past on my walk to school are being taken down for safety reasons, having reached maturity or sustained damage from storms. I see new parents pushing strollers and know that in a few years their kids will be starting school at WWV just as mine are moving on. There’s a lot of change in the air, and it feels like the right time for a new school building for students, teachers, and staff to grow into. It’s bittersweet, but mostly, it’s exciting.

So I’ll just sign out by saying how lucky I am to have experienced life at Westwood View as both a student and a parent, and by saying congrats to all the teachers, staff members, parents, students, and community members who make this place what it is. It feels great knowing that the school’s A+ Attitude and Achievement (old school motto, for the heads) will live on for many years to come.

Pythons Forever! And hello, new Westwood View!

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