The 11-year-old captain of the school crossing guards ran up the flag at half-staff. A teacher thumbed proudly through a pile of first graders' drawings of her - each one showing a smiling face. A fifth grader talked about the closing of her school, summing it up with one-word put-down: "Dumb."
It was a sad day for youngsters, teachers and parents as the Whittier Woods Elementary School in Bethesda closed its doors last week.
Parents, students, teachers and staff had lost their fight to keep Whittier Woods open and, for the most part, were now reconciled to leaving the school building behind while preserving memories of what one mother called "an absolutely superior school."
Whittier Woods operated this year at two-thirds of its capacity. The school board chose it in November as one of nine schools that would be closed because of declining enrollments. Last week, school superintendent Charles M. Bernardo said that 30 more schools will have to be closed by June, 1982 for the same reason.
Economics forced the closing of Whittier Woods, but emotion made the final day difficult for the 26 teachers and staff members and the 282 students and their parents.
"I'd like to have my kids go to the same school I go to. Now they won't be able to," complained Pam Walsh, 10, a fifth-grade student attired in shorts, T-shirt and tennis shoes for her last day at Whittier Woods.
"They ought to have a vote by the children," said young populist Susan Hughes, 11, a fifth-grader. "They're not considering the children. They're just doing what everyone else wants."
Many teachers and parents accepted the closing as a necessary though unwelcome reality. Other parents and principal Patricia Polignano insisted that other schools should have been closed first.
The students seemed opposed to the closing, though not really upset about it. Their teachers said a visit earlier this year to their new school. Burning Tree Elementary, about 2 1/2 miles north of Whittier Woods, made them feel better about the change. Even so, they regretted leaving.
Two special programs were conducted at Whittier Woods: an advanced program (AP) for gifted children, and a program for educable mentally retarded children. In addition, the school was convenient to the tree-shaded suburban Bethesda neighborhood where Thomas W. Pyle Junior High School and Walt Whitman High School are also located.
Martin Cahn, a gregarious 12-year-old, said he disliked the closing even though he would be moving on to Pyle Junior High rather than Burning Tree.
"The AP program has been the best experience of my life, and I enjoyed it because of Mr. C.," Martin declared, putting his hand on the shoulder of his teacher, Gerald Consuegra.
Polignano had hoped the innovative AP program would help save the school. She began it four years ago when the mother of an exceptionally intelligent boy in kindergarten came to her. The boy, whose name is Danny, was reading at the level of a 10th grade student. Polignano felt that "there must be other Dannys," so she brought them together in the advanced program.
About 70 fourth-to sixth-grade students who normally would have gone to other Area I schools were attracted to the special AP classes at Whittier Woods. First-to third-grade gifted students at Whittier Woods received two hours of special instruction daily.
The sixth-grade advanced program students in Consuegra's class were openly enthusiastic about the program. On their last day of class they completed a special class project: building a 5-foot-tall "house." Displaying the house to a visitor last Thursday, one young student pointed out the electrical work, roof shingles and well-built wooden frame and concluded , "All you need now is an armchair."
The advanced programs from Whittier Woods will continue at the fourth-through sixth-grade levels at Burning Tree for at least one year. The program for gifted first-to-third-grade students, however, will be discontinued. And the educable mentally retarded children will be transferred to Bannockburn Elementary School.
The closing of the 17-year-old school brought out a strong sentimental showing in the community. About 700 persons attended an outdoor closing ceremony, and 350 graduates attended an "alumni afternoon."
Ceremony also seemed appropriate to Coileen Nunzio, the crossing guard captain who flew the flag at half-mast "because the school is dying, and we are really sad that the school is closing."
Two of the 15 teachers at Whittier Woods had taught there for 12 years. Both said they accepted the closing as inevitable and sad.
"I still believe in a neighborhood school," said Bernadine Gregory, the first-grade teacher whose students drew her with a smile on her face. "With a small school and small classes the children really in the long run receive a better education, because you get to know the children and their needs.
In addition to the portraits, Gregory had her students write her a letter on their last day at school. Most notes were simple and affectionate: "I liked being with you." One Chinese boy who knew no English when he entered school wrote, "I llke to talk words with Miss Gregory."
But Gregory will see many of her students again at Burning Tree, to which she has been assigned. And she noted, "Life is one adaption after another. Because of the economic situation we have to do this."
The other 12-year veteran of Whittier Woods, Wren Abramo, agrees that the school closings are necessary because of declining enrollment. "It had to be done. It's just too bad that this is the one," she said.