Pettingill’s former students take a last look before it closes next week

LEWISTON – They all returned to Pettingill Elementary School one last time.

Kenneth Glidden, 53, made the trek from Boston and reunited with his best girl from the fourth grade. Peter Slovenski found the spot where a kid told his second-grade class that somebody shot the president. And teacher Ida Grondin reconnected with her now-grown third-graders.

“It’s just the body that changes,” Grondin said, standing in the narrow hallway of the aging school.

On June 17, the neighborhood school will close for good.

A mile down College Street, the new Geiger Elementary School will welcome Pettingill’s students in the fall. The multimillion-dollar campus will be bigger and fancier.

The intimate old school – which once had one classroom and one teacher for each grade – will be gone.

“Something will be lost,” Slovenski said as he walked from classroom to classroom on Friday.

Outside, the school hosted food and games for families. The party drew hundreds of people, who danced to a DJ’s music, ate cotton candy and swung a last swing on the playground.

Inside, people walked the halls, stepped into the classrooms and sat in the knee-high plastic chairs. Some teachers had already begun packing and stacking white boxes with their materials.

There were also pictures, lots of them. Class photos dated back to the 1950s and ’60s. Some were color. Some were black and white.

Slovenski tried his best to pick out the members of his class, which he called the “Class of ’68.” That was the year they finished the sixth grade and moved on to middle school.

“We were together for seven years, beginning in kindergarten,” he said. “We were close.”

They were so tight that when he found out about the school’s open house and block party, he gathered e-mail addresses, already pulled together for the same class’s high school reunion.

He gathered nine classmates for a short tour of the school. Together, they roamed from room to room – in order of grade – and shared memories of black eyes and schoolyard romances.

Kenneth Glidden remembered Mary Rolerson Hebert. And she remembered him.

“Kenny!” she said. She laughed. “I guess no one calls you that anymore.”

She pulled out a fifth-grade class photo and pointed to herself and Glidden. He wore a tie, striped sweater and short hair. She wore a skirt and knee socks. Both sat in the photo with their hands carefully folded.

“It took me four years to work up the courage to tell her I liked her,” he said.

Hebert, who became a seventh-grade teacher and settled in Kennebunk, said she wishes children these days had the close connections she felt as a girl.

In her town, like most, the kids are grouped in multi-grade classes. It will be that way at Geiger Elementary, which will also draw in kids who had attended other schools.

“It will be a little cold,” said Grondin, who hopes to get a look inside when it opens.

But next year’s third-graders – like 25 years of third-graders she taught – will all be “perfect,” she said. They’re old enough to like school, but they’re not so old that they start dividing themselves up.

“In the fourth grade, they get cliquey,” Grondin said.

Then, she smiled.

“There’s a third-grader inside every one of us,” she said.

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