October 26, 2021

Virgil’s last first day

Elementary school 1 of 2 closing in Cortland district

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Lorraine Barber talks with her children, from left, Brady, 8, Bianca, 11, and John, 11, Wednesday before they head off to Virgil Elementary school for the first day of school.

Three muted kids sat on their nervous energy around the dining room table shortly before 8 a.m. Wednesday in the Barber household in Virgil — the first day of school and the last first day ever to be had at Virgil Elementary School.

They sat, slumped, fiddled, and giggled over raspberry noises — usual behavior for sixth- and third-graders.

John Barber wore a hat and admitted he was a little nervous about the start of school — also the start of Virgil Elementary School’s last year. The Cortland School District voted to close both Virgil and Parker elementary schools next July.

John Barber is starting the sixth grade with sister Bianca, while Brady, the youngest of 15, is starting third grade.

They’ve grown attached to the school, so they’re uncertain about what lies beyond this year.

“There’s a lot of nice kids there,” John said.

Mom Lorraine Barber, who also attended Virgil Elementary School, was staying positive although she said she’s sad to see Virgil close.

It means her 3-year-old granddaughter, Paisley, a blonde, blue-eyed girl running around the table Wednesday morning won’t be the fourth generation to attend.

“I hate seeing Virgil close but I do hope it will accomplish something positive,” Lorraine Barber said.

Once John and Bianca get through Virgil, 12 of Lorraine and Ric Barber’s 15 children will have done so — something the Barbers believe has benefitted their kids. The small class sizes and the community bonding have provided sound education and strengthened families’ ties to their neighborhood, they say.

On the flip side, the switch to grade centers means kids like John and Bianca won’t have such a drastic change when they enter the seventh grade after years with the same group of children in the same school.

Next year, instead of attending five elementary schools, two will be closed and elementary students will attend the building corresponding to their grade:

• Barry school for kindergarten to second-grade.
• Smith school for third- and fourth-grades.
• Randall school for fifth- and sixth-grades.

This could be a welcome change, said Lorraine Barber. While she’s sad to see Virgil close, she is intent on seeing something good come from it.

If kids are already used to going to school with their peers from across the district, they won’t have a sudden adjustment to it when they enter seventh grade, she pointed out.

“Because it’s a huge change to go there (the junior high school) and have classes four times the size it is here,” she said.

Brady will experience the biggest change next year as he will board a bus to school for the first time — landing at Smith school with other fourth-graders. John and Bianca would be bused to the junior-senior high school next year, anyway.

Ric Barber doesn’t expect the bus ride for Brady to be much shorter than an hour — an adjustment for a kid who’s always lived within a minute walk of his school.

Brady pointed out, adding to the anxiety about the transition is that he gets car sick.

But the change is happening — the district is starting transition planning — so, says Lorraine Barber, “why be miserable.”

“I’m sure they’ll (the kids will) be fine,” she said. “And I think Virgil, from what I’ve seen so far — the teachers and staff have said it’s going to be a great year, and that’s the attitude you have to keep.”

This is just what Virgil Elementary School Principal Lisa Kaup was doing also.

“Everybody, all our staff and students came in smiling and excited the same as every other year,” Kaup said Wednesday afternoon. “We’re ecstatic about being together and making memories as we do every single year.”