When the doors to Sara Scott Harllee Middle School first opened in 1974, Charles “Bill” King was there. And when those doors closed for the last time Wednesday, the school’s first principal was there, too.
“It’s exciting to see some of the former people I haven’t seen in a while, reminisce about old times,” said King, who was principal from 1974 to 2000. “It is kind of sad it’s not going to be Harllee Middle School anymore.”
Current and past Harllee staff and students along with other officials gathered in the school’s gymnasium, 6423 Ninth St. E., Bradenton, to celebrate 43 years of education as the school will no longer house traditional students, but instead be used for other district programs. Old yearbook pages lined the hallways, a farewell toast was given and individuals shared their memories of the school.
“It’s incredibly sad,” said Holly Clouse, an ESE teacher at Harllee. “It’s a neighborhood school. We are a family.”
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Wednesday marked the end of the school year for more than 48,000 Manatee County School District students but at Harllee, which only had seventh- and eighth-graders this year, it meant an end of an era.
“The students were so somber,” Clouse said. “They really just came in quietly, very respectful. They came in knowing this is it.”
For the past three years, Harllee has been home to Gabriel Vaca, 13, who will begin at Bayshore High in the fall.
“I will miss all the teachers here,” he said. “They made me go higher in life. ... Harllee will always forever be with me.”
Harllee band director Jim Byrne, who was at the school for 28 years, said he wished things had worked out differently for the school.
“I guess all things come to an end,” he said. “It’s always been a family. Probably that’s one of the best things we will always remember about Harllee is that it’s always been a family here no matter how much it’s changed.”
Earlier in the day, it was exciting yet bittersweet for Wakeland Elementary fifth-grade teacher Alison Shedrow as she watched her students say their goodbyes and sign yearbooks on Wednesday.
“They were mine for 180 days and now I’m passing them on,” said Shedrow, who has taught at Wakeland, 1812 27th St. E., Bradenton, for 10 years.
But while Shedrow, who will be teaching fourth grade at the school next year, said her goodbyes to the soon-to-be middle schoolers Wednesday, she knows she will see most of them again soon. Wakeland Elementary is expected to relocate to Johnson Middle School during winter break of the 2017-18 academic year.
“Next year will be kind of sweet to see them again,” she said.
For fifth-grader Ayla Mulock, 10, who received a Music Student of the Year award Wednesday, she is going to miss everything about Wakeland.
“I’m like in the middle of nervous and excited,” she said.
Grady Murphy, 11, who also received a Music Student of the Year award, said it was “pretty cool” to receive the award.
“Music is definitely one of my favorite things to do at this school,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the fifth-graders faced off against Wakeland staff in the annual kickball game. With help from the Bradenton Marauders, the students won 17-1, which meant principal Mario Mendoza had to shave his head.
“It was one of the first times that kids ever won, and we did,” Brady said.
The current Wakeland campus may have seen its official last day of a school year, Mendoza said.
“It was definitely a memorable one, one that we are always going to remember and cherish,” he said. “A lot of the kids enjoyed it, but you’ve always got to embrace change. And so, moving into next year, I am sure we will begin to make new memories when we go over to Johnson.”
Farther out east at Lakewood Ranch High School, the last day of school meant something different to everyone.
“Sleep,” said Slade Boheim, 14, a freshman. “I’m looking forward to not waking up so early.”
But for Lauren Wood, 17, who is a junior, she is looking forward to her senior year.
“I’m pretty happy about it. I’m also a little nostalgic,” Wood said. “I just witnessed some of the final days of this year’s graduates. Next year is going to be a good year.”
Still, as much as she is looking forward to the summer, she can’t wait for school to start back up.
“Finally, I’m going to be a senior. I’ve been waiting for this day for years,” she said.