Students and parents filled the halls at Swansfield Elementary School, looking at massive display boards with 40 years of photographs. Children took turns writing next to the images: "Swansfield is: awesome." "Fabulous." "Fun."
Principal Molly Ketterer put it another way: "Swansfield is family."
Swansfield Elementary School celebrated its 40th anniversary Friday, April 12. Nearly 400 gathered at the school, which first opened its doors as one of the first schools for the new town of Columbia in 1972.
Since then, Ketterer estimates, 200,000 children have graduated as “swans,” including actor Edward Norton and CNN anchor Suzanne Malveaux.
“So much has changed over the years, but one thing stays the same,” said Ketterer, who has been principal at the school for four years. “This is an incredibly active group of parents and an incredibly passionate community. This is a very friendly, welcoming place. Once a swan, always a swan.”
“Being a swan,” Ketterer said, means learning who you are a person, and finding and following your passion. At Swansfield, she said, the parents and staff are committed to helping students discover themselves.
Glenn Hayes, a fourth-grade teacher, has been at Swansfield since the 25th anniversary, and he said he’s always been struck by how the community has become a family.
“This is always home,” he said.
The tight-knit community is aided in part by location, Ketterer said. With a population of about 590 students, the school only uses five buses — the majority of students walk to school, meaning staff gets more one-on-one interaction with families than they might otherwise.
“This is a place of relationships,” she said. “Once there’s a relationship, there’s much deeper involvement and engagement in learning.”
Larue Yaskowitz, currently the school’s reading specialist, has been teaching at the school all 40 years — she’s worked with eight different principals, under five superintendents.
In that time, she’s seen the school change physically in little ways (from triangle-shaped desks pushed together to foster collaborative learning and open pod spaces, to actual desks and closed classrooms). She’s also seen the community change — the population dipped a few years in, but as neighborhoods like Clary’s Forest developed, “everything exploded,” she said.
“The expansion has been unbelievable,” she said. “We have a lot more cultural groups, too. The diversity has increased, and that’s wonderful. It seems like a new school every year.”