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Friday, July 26, 2019

Johnson Elementary Family Says One More Goodbye to Elementary School


By Zach Wells

Everything was all set.  And it was something to put on the calendar.

The date, the time, and the plan to dig up a keepsake from Johnson Elementary School's beginnings were all specified and relayed to the community.  As days go, this was a big one.

Parts of only two walls had survived the demolition backhoe at Johnson, standing nobly above an expanse of rubble. They met at a special corner in the old library building and, as legend has it, the soil beneath contained a time capsule planted shortly after Johnson opened in the 1920s.


For Claire Summers, an incoming Johnson 4th grader, it's an odd feeling driving by with her parents and seeing the old school turned into a construction zone, especially when the space holds such fond memories. One of her favorites was losing a baby tooth in kindergarten while biting into a sugar cookie.

The trip back through time, to search for mementos and relics from the early 20th century in the time capsule, would begin on June 3rd at 4:00 p.m.

Just as "Friends" was must-see TV in the 1990s, Kim Schnier knew this was a life moment in which she needed a front row seat.  Schnier devoted the better part of the last 25 years teaching 5th grade in that very room, the one positioned above the capsule. This was the site of her favorite day in teaching, when students in literature circles explained the meaning of the title from "The View From Saturday", their faces covered with smiles from an "aha!" moment in their schooling. And Schnier started her Johnson career in the 90s, right around the time Rachel and Ross were sorting out their relationship drama on NBC on Thursday nights.



"It is just so much more than a building to me," Schnier said.  "There is a magic in the halls at Johnson, a kindness and concern that you can overhear in every conversation in the hallway."

Schnier's classroom overlooked North Fort Thomas Avenue.

Through her windows, Schnier caught a glimpse of her mother dropping off Schnier's two daughters for afternoon kindergarten.  It allowed for a quick sprint outside and "have a good day" hugs.

"Where else does that happen besides Johnson?" Schnier asked rhetorically.

Schnier saw a boxer mix walk by on the sidewalk as a puppy and, later, go out for a stroll as an elderly dog that had a harder time getting around.  Life unfolded beyond those very windows, the panes providing a glimpse into the yearbook of life.  Seasons change and begin anew.  Before you know it, a generation has come of age.  In essence, Schnier knew she had to be there.

4:00 p.m. came and the digging began. The demolition crews searched but were unable to find the elusive time capsule as planned that day. "But they are going to keep looking," announced Fort Thomas Education Foundation chair Amy Shaffer. What the backhoe did jar loose, however, was a Cornerstone etched with "AD 1922", and the contents within might hold something of interest. Johnson Principal Ashley Dikeos said that the school's demolition team will investigate in the near future. If anything is found, the time capsule's contents will be revealed in conjunction with the grand opening of the new school in 2020.

Dikeos said, "It will be a time of celebration!"

But as one plan didn't work out, another came together beautifully. The FTIS allowed the on-lookers inside the construction zone to watch the search for the time capsule and even select bricks to take home as keepsakes. The initial plan was to station participants across North Fort Thomas Avenue on the sidewalk. One woman described it as an "honor" to be invited so closely, making the experience real and palpable.


"We are always one to make sure our community is a part of big events," said Dikeos. "To get to see one last piece of the old Johnson come down as a small community as awesome."

And to able to take parts of the school home was impactful.

"Having a brick at my house and in my room means a lot, just to have a piece of a school that means so much to me," said Maya Wells, an incoming 4th grader at the Johnson Valley. Students and parents took great care in selecting just the right remnants to take home. It looked reminiscent of picking out the perfect Christmas tree for the living room. The bricks had to be just so.


Dikeos checked in on one student to make sure she, in fact, picked out just the right brick. The child nodded with a smile. The Johnson community loved it. One parent even pulled out his cell phone to call his children and ask them to get to the school as quickly as possible to seize the opportunity.

Schnier said she took home several bricks that day. Her husband, Lou, is an artist who mounted a pre-demolition photo of Schnier's old classroom on one of the bricks. The sun, in the midst of setting in the West, cast a brilliant light on everything that Schnier holds dear: her home away from home at school, the tree out front, and the window panes that gave her so much.


The inscripted message is a personal one and yet reflects the sentiment of an entire community.

"Thanks for the memories old friend."

 
Indeed.

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