Richmond Elementary School closed its doors for the final time on the last day of school June 6. The school has been closed and will not reopen in the fall.

Students and teachers gathered for one last time in the auditorium for a student awards assembly followed by opening two time capsules that were buried within the building.

“Every moment has been amazing. The students, the families, teachers, support staff, administration, I can’t say enough about how wonderful everything has been every minute of every day,” said Richmond Elementary Principal Michelle Jackson, who has been principal at Richmond for the past 14 years.

She described Richmond Elementary as one giant family.

“It’s a hard thing to let go of, but I found a quote that says, ‘Difficult endings usually lead to amazing beginnings,’ so we’re looking to our new beginnings.”

Jackson will be principal at Willow Creek Elementary with many of Richmond’s former students.

“I’m grateful for that and hope to build something as amazing there as we had here,” she said.

Opening the time capsules on the last day of school before closing the building is “extremely serendipitous.”

“How amazing that we found out that these were here at such a difficult time for everyone here to let go and to find this piece of history before we close,” said Jackson.

“I hope that it shows that Richmond Elementary has always been an amazing place. Its 64 years that it’s been here. Kind of tie all of those memories up with a nice bow in 2019 and anybody who ever went here will always have that memory of our last year we found these amazing things from when we started to the very end. It’s kind of like the alphabet, from A to Z so it aligns very nicely.”

The search for the time capsules was led by Dr. Steven Katzenmoyer, Richmond Elementary and Andrew Maier teacher and former Richmond Elementary student himself.

The 1955 time capsule was found in the front corner stone and the 1973 time capsule was found at the rear of the building. A possible third time capsule from the early 1980s was not found.

They invited former Richmond Elementary teachers Paul and Dawn Vasko to help open the capsules. Paul taught 2, 4, 5 grade during his 33 years teaching at Fleetwood School District, including 13 years at Richmond Elementary. His wife, Dawn, was an art teacher from 1971 to 2004 at Richmond Elementary. “A lot of memories,” said Paul.

There were copies of The Kutztown Patriot and Reading Times in both time capsules. There were letters from former teachers, photographs and a tape cassette of students singing in 1973, as well as other Richmond Elementary mementos from 1955 and 1973.

Every child who was a student at Richmond Elementary in 1973 signed their name on a long scroll, as well as the teachers and staff.

“I think it is really great that every child that was in this building signed their name on this paper,” said Dawn, who was an art teacher at that time.

As they were opening the capsules, Dawn said she was thinking about the students learning about the history of Richmond Elementary.

“We were a family. When I started teaching here, I was told … you are part of a family now,” said Dawn. “That’s your job, to help them grow up… It was built on respect and love. Being the smaller of the schools in Fleetwood, it was a little easier because you truly knew every student.”

Dawn said the district considered closing Richmond Elementary two previous times during the school’s history.

“We fought it because yes there was a dip in population but it’s going to cycle up again. But now I think it’s reached its end and we have to accept it for what it is, as sad as it may be,” said Dawn.

Nancy Sterley of Reading was a 6th grade student when Richmond Elementary opened in 1955 and now her grandchildren have attended Richmond Elementary also. She was pleased to see her name listed in a letter that was found inside the 1955 time capsule.

“It’s sad (that it’s closing),” said Sterley. “It’s a community school. Parents get involved. As you could see today, the kids are awesome. It’s a good school.”

For Richmond Elementary mother Orlena Hercules, the final day of fourth grade for her son Ashton was a particularly emotional day for her, as she cried and hugged Principal Jackson.

Orlena said that all three of her children attended Richmond Elementary and the closing of the school has been an emotional experience. She is grateful that her children had the opportunity to graduate from Richmond Elementary.

“It’s sad. My girls are sad. They had great memories here. They always talk about their teachers and (Principal) Jackson,” said Orlena. “Family, that’s it, family. We love it. It’s like a home. I’m going to miss them.”

Jackson said they will be reaching out to the Fleetwood Area Historical Society to see if they want the time capsules for their collection.

As for creating a time capsule for the school’s final year, Jackson said they are considering putting something together to remember the 2018-2019 students of Richmond Elementary as they close the doors to the school.

Lisa Mitchell is an editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers, covering news and events in the Northeast Berks County area.

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