Eagle Cove

Eagle Cove School students Jessica Calvert, left, and Annabella MacKenzie take part in the project to record water temperature readings along the shoreline near the Pasadena school. Founded in 1956 with an environmental emphasis, Eagle Cove is closing this year. (Submitted photo by Carl Treff / Baltimore Sun / June 2, 2014)

Looking at the Magothy River backdrop abutting Eagle Cove School in Pasadena, it isn't hard to imagine that teachers at the private prekindergarten-through-fifth grade school must have a difficult time teaching the meaning of the word "final."

Everything from the running water and the changes of seasons to the budding plants and growing animal life speaks of a continuum — a contrast to the fact that this past year marked the final days of the school's history.

Eagle Cove School, which was founded along the Magothy near Gibson Island in 1956, is closing, a casualty of declining enrollment and dwindling funds.

Fifth-grader Sofia Villagomez of Annapolis acknowledged that she cried when she heard of the school's fate earlier this year.

On Monday, returning from a canoe trip for fifth-graders along the Magothy, she said she and her classmates relished the outing "because we were all together, and it was one of the last times we'll be together."

"We're the last graduating class," said fifth-grader Condor Knupp, 11. He said upon hearing news of the school's closing, "I thought, 'The fourth-graders aren't going to graduate. That's pretty sad.' "

The school's final field day was Thursday, and the final graduation was Friday — the final day of school.

School officials say the property will now revert to the Gibson Island Corp., an organization that purchased the island more than 70 years ago, per a stipulation written into its deed.

Carl Treff, president of the Eagle Cove Parents' Association, said students seemed to have taken the news better than the parents. "They've accepted it, and they all seem enthusiastic to move on," said Treff, of Pasadena. "The parents, we've shed a lot of tears."

Treff said about 60 percent of students enrolled at the school will stay in private schools.

In 2013, the school was highlighted in a local documentary, "Save the Magothy River," created by filmmaker Charles Germain. The film focuses on the Marylanders Grow Oysters project in the river.

Eagle Cove achieved Maryland Green School status in 2006, and teacher Vicki Dabrowka was named Anne Arundel County Private School Teacher of the Year in 2012. Eagle Cove students also staged a schoolwide recycling program, officials said.

"It's one of the only schools in Maryland that really, really recycles and takes it seriously," said Condor.

To the end, the school has maintained its environmental focus. Each June, at the request of the Magothy River Association, students venture onto the river and take temperature readings along the shoreline, and Monday's event continued that tradition. Students have found that water is cooler along natural shorelines than in areas now buffered by wooden bulkhead or rock riprap, MRA officials said.

"One of the things this little experiment is showing is that one of the problems in the Magothy, particularly into the summer, is that the water temperature increases so much that we get waves and waves of bacteria," said Paul Spadaro, MRA president.

"This was a little experiment that a bunch of grade-school kids provide very useful information for my association," he said.

It was back in January that Head of School Laura Kang and board of trustees co-presidents Luanne Adams and Michael Johnson announced that the school's board voted unanimously to close its doors.

On Monday, Kang said most of the teachers and faculty had been hired elsewhere; she isheaded to a private school in Pawling, N.Y. Kang said she planned to give students in grades prekindergarten through the fourth grade special certificates commemorating them as the last of their grades to attend Eagle Cove.

"Quite honestly, when I came here six years ago, and I looked at the school's finances, I was concerned," Kang said. "I felt like we only had three years. But we had six.

"I wish it could have been forever."

She said the school raised nearly $500,000 last year but needed to enroll 106 students to remain financially viable. This year's enrollment of 76 was down from 83 last year, Kang said.

"Into this fall, the board of trustees and I were looking for every possible way to save this school," said Kang. "We were looking at significant gifts, which we had been able to raise in the past. We were looking for the possibility for a line of credit on the property, which we could not do.

"Piece by piece, we went through every possible option. Every door was closed."

Treff said years ago, when Eagle Cove was named Gibson Island Country School, about half of the students came from Gibson Island. That's no longer the case.

"As the island residents got up in age, and the island has become more of a summer home for people that can afford it, there are less kids on the island that attend the school," he said. "You take all those kids out of the mix, and you try to market to the rest of the surrounding community, we just could not bring in enough."

jburris@baltsun.com