Speech for Seipelt Elementary Open House

At the Open House/Ribbon Cutting for the new Seipelt Elementary, I was lucky enough to be asked to give a short speech, since my daughter attended Seipelt for her elementary years. Below is the text of that speech.

Being here, looking around, it’s kind of hard to believe we’re standing in the brand-new Charles L. Seipelt Elementary School. Such a long time coming, but here we are. What a joy, and an honor, to be able to welcome you today to this beautiful school. I know you will all create lots of wonderful new memories here as you and your students make this school your own.

This building is certainly magnificent. The state-of-the-art learning spaces, the technology, the equipment – this will be an inspiring place to help guide students through their elementary years. I love the inspirational quotes, the openness, the flow, the light, the enhanced security … the air conditioning … we are all proud to introduce this impressive building to our community.

My daughter Natalie attended the old Seipelt from 2002 to 2009. As I thought about today, reflecting back on those years, there were so many memories … and those were just ours. How many staff members, how many students, experienced learning in that building over the past 50-some years? What special times do others look back on when they think of Seipelt Elementary?

I asked for staff and community members to share, and what I heard brought tears to my eyes. Perhaps the most poignant statement came from teacher Ryan Hanna, whose fondest memory was hanging the “National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence” banner. “That proved it doesn’t matter what your school looks like,” he says. “What matters is what goes on inside.”

So, so true. What went on inside that building was pretty remarkable. Certainly there were challenges – but the staff, students and families continually proved that education can happen anywhere.

And boy, did education happen! Some of my best memories are seeing first-hand how capable and engaging our teachers are. I was lucky enough to help out in the classroom for Natalie’s first three years – every Friday with Mrs. Dunigan and Mrs. Brown, then helping Mrs. Huffer with reading in first grade, and Mrs. Scovanner in the second-grade classroom. Those were extra-special days, times spent with students that show you just how wonderful the world can be.

That building was filled with love. The cafeteria and gym may have been small, but what homes they were to some of the best memories! Parent Kathy Doherty talks about Family Night – “Dancing in the gym was a blast!” she says. Her husband Doug also remembers the cafeteria fondly from all his visits for Guest to Lunch and the PTA Christmas Shop.

The teachers helped create so many memories between those walls, in the classroom and out. Jill Zerhusen did her student teaching there, back in 1998, and she fell in love with the building – even though it didn’t have air conditioning! Troy Weigand loved seeing the looks on the kids’ faces when the teachers danced to whip-nae-nae and What Did the Fox Say. Deb Talbert remembers Miss Pruitt’s Nutcracker and loved field days. Parent Leah Pettigrew, who attended Seipelt herself, loved the artwork that adorned the halls: “Most are the same murals I saw as a student there!” she says. My daughter Natalie’s sixth grade class was the first to paint a ceiling tile, which she remembers vividly: “It was so exciting to see the tile in the cafeteria after we’d painted it!” she says.

The old Seipelt building saw a lot of firsts. Parent Angie Weber worked with teacher Jason Jacobs to start a fantastic tae kwon do program … the PTA started the Walkathon fundraiser … parent Tammy Barton and I started the Harvest Carnival … teachers Ryan Hanna and Jill Zerhusen started the Lunch Buddy program … and our beloved Mrs. McHale, née Miss Brown, got engaged at the old Seipelt!

Friendships are also a huge benefit coming out of the old Seipelt. Our staff socializes and supports one another, in school and out. Student friendships were born there and often remain into adulthood. And many adult friendships began there as well: parent Brenda Ely talks about meeting people she’s still friends with today, long after the kids have graduated.

So yes, this new building is beautiful. Yes, it will make teaching easier, and the board of education is thrilled we were able to make it happen for our community. But we all must remember that the building itself is simply a tool. The most successful learning comes from people – from the partnership between teachers, students and families, from the inspiration engendered when those connections are made. The “real” Seipelt is not this building. It is our staff, our students, and our community. We look forward to seeing what you all accomplish next.

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