On Tuesday April 29, Donlin Drive Elementary School celebrated its 35th Birthday with an Open House, an Alumni Night and, of, course cake.
“We’ve got a lot of people coming, a lot of alumni and former staff, so it should be quite an event,” said Principal John Sardella, who was outside greeting students and parents as they arrived.
This was more than an average open house.
“Every year we have an open house, but this year it’s special because it’s the 35th birthday of the school,” said Joan Mashayekhi, the PTO president, who was stationed in the gymnasium selling t-shirts, stuffed dragons (the school mascot) and memory calendars. “We’ve been working really hard all year to get a playground, so our present this year will be phase one of the playground.”
Both Sardella and Mashayekhi were right: the event was special, and the turnout was remarkable. Along with current students, parents, teachers and staff, more than 20 former staff members returned to celebrate, including at least five of the teachers who were on staff when the school opened in September of 1972.
The evening kicked off with an open house, where students got show their families what they have accomplished this year. The hallways were bustling with students leading their parents around, pointing out artwork, friends, and classrooms.
While the alumni were most excited to see old teachers and peers, the children were most excited about the playground.
“Our gift to our students and to the building for our 35th birthday is going to be installing playground equipment, two weeks from now, on May 17,” said Sardella. “We have been very fortunate to have raised $23,000 this year for our playground.”
“This has been a very active year for us,” said Mashayekhi. “It’s really incredible, we’ve raised that money in one year, through donations, fundraising, and other events we had here at the school.”
According to Mashayekhi, phase one of the playground will include, “swings, a space-net, a stand-up spinner, a four-seater seesaw, a two person seesaw.” She added that additions will be made to the playground in years to come as more money is raised.
Along with the playground, which will open on May 21, Sardella said he hopes the school will gain “a sense of community and everybody coming together, we’re continuing to build that community spirit.”
One of the teachers at the open house, Larry Segovis, who started at Donlin in January of 1973, and still works there waxed nostalgic at the event.
“Some of my former students have come back as parents, and now I have their children in class,” Segovis said. “It’s a different feeling, but it’s nice, and it makes you feel good because parents are willing to come back to the school district and have their children go to the same school that they went to. It says a lot about the teachers that were in the school at the time when they were here.”
Segovis wasn’t the only original staffer on hand; Paul McKinney and Sharon Wilson were both part of Donlin’s original teaching staff.
“It’s nostalgic,” said McKinney. “She [Wilson] opened the first year, and I came in the second year that school was open, and it was the best five years of my teaching profession. We were all very young, and very na ve, and all kind of spunky and spirited. We had a wonderful principal, Kate Grummet, who we challenged all the time, and god bless her she put up with us. I taught kindergarten for three years and then fourth grade, some of the best experiences of my life.”
McKinney added that he’d loved to sit with her and thank her.
“I see kids every so often, at Wegmans, and just out places, and it’s heartwarming, they come up to me and they remember,” McKinney said. “They remember all the little nuancey-things that you forgot.”
McKinney added that one of the librarians here had a son that he taught, who is now a lawyer in Washington, and that he’s very proud.
“It’s nice to come back and see [the place],” said Wilson, who came up from Pennsylvania to be at the event. “We really had a lot of fun here. When the school first opened, it was so innovative, that people would come on tours all the time. During the day while you were teaching they’d announce which school system was visiting. We always felt that we were very special, and had a special place.
“It’s a very nice school, and it continues to be. It’s nice to see that people that actually bought houses in the neighborhood, so that their children can go to school here. It’s really a tribute, I think,” Wilson said.
Even staffers who haven’t been here since the beginning were thrilled to be a part of the event. Robert Zenker, the physical education teacher at Donlin Elementary, who was showing off a t-shirt collection that he had accumulated over his 33 years at Donlin, said it’s wonderful to see all of his former students. Among them was Katie Rose, who is now the vice president of the PTO and a teacher herself. Zenker now teaches her children, Donovan and Madison.
“It’s good for the kids to back be here with their parents and make some of the connections,” said Zenker . “For Donovan to know that I was his mom’s teacher, he knows that, but to come here and see their picture in a book, and be here in the building at the same time is very exciting connection.”
Rose added that Zenker was also her husband’s teacher. She also said was able to find both her and her husband’s picture while thumbing through old yearbooks that were laid out in the gymnasium.
Rose said it’s wonderful to see her old teachers.
“They were so good to me,” she said. “I’m also a teacher myself, and it’s the wonderful impression they made on me, that made me want to become a teacher. They were an inspiration, like Mr. McKinney, who was my kindergarten teacher, and now I also teach kindergarten.
“I’ve kept in touch with him through the years,” Rose went on. “That’s the bond you seem to get at Donlin Drive. It will always be a part of me, and that’s why it’s so great that my kids are here too — it’s like family. You feel like you’re home.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.