October 23, 2021

Parker sings swan song

91 years of sweet memories flood school on last day

Michael McCleary/contributing photographer

Kim Hay, Parker Elementary School librarian, gives directions as students line up for one final school picture. Cortland Standard file photo from June 2019.

Judy DeLucia has grown used to her corner of the street at Madison Street and Floral Avenue in Cortland.

A crossing guard for 30 years for Parker Elementary School, every weekday she clips the leashes of her two Yorkshire Terriers to the fence by the street, puts on her yellow vest and waits for children to cross. She notices when families drive their kids instead of walking, recognizes the families who travel by foot and even follows the path of the white kitten across the street. The kids and the families recognize her, too.

“It just shows that people like to get to know other people,” DeLucia said.

Judy DeLucia, a Parker Elementary School crossing guard for 30 years, stops traffic for the last time on her Floral Street at Madison Street stop.

Tuesday was her last day on the corner. After 91 years, Parker Elementary School closed its doors. Next year, students, teachers and faculty at Parker will split into three grade centers. Barry School will house students kindergarten through second grade, Smith School will have third and fourth grades and Randall School will have the fifth and sixth grades.

For parents of students at the school, the last day of school Tuesday offered a time for reflection and optimism. The school’s closing comes with the loss of a community center that has housed generations of Cortland students.

“Usually, I’m excited for the last day of school,” said Christine Paquin, whose fourth-grade son, Austin, attended Parker. “But today is more heartbreaking because I know we’re not coming back to this building.”

For years, the school had been the neighborhood school. Parents took comfort in the fact they could walk their kids to school, could lead them into the building.

The reconfiguration — coming with the closure of Parker and Virgil elementary schools — means they’ll no longer have that luxury.

It also means some kids will attend three schools in three years. Jesse Radford, whose son Emile Radford will enter fourth grade, said Emile will go to Smith next year and Randall the next.

“We had hoped to have another three more years here,” Radford said.

But on the last day, there were plenty of smiles and pleasant memories.

A sign in front of the building read, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” as students ran through inflatable obstacle courses, kicked a ball and ate ice cream. They wore purple Parker Elementary shirts, shirts they were given on the first day of school. They weren’t required to wear them Tuesday.

Children laughed, parents took pictures and the students got together for one last photo, together.

“We grew up here,” said Sue Fredenburg, a grandparent in the school district who went to Parker Elementary School. “We grew up here on the monkey bars and the swings, and you know how it is. It was a great school. It still is. It’s very sad.”

September will be a new year, and a new normal.

DeLucia will move to her new stop a block away with new people to meet, new people to cross and a new place to strap her dogs. Tuesday, she perked up as a child approached and inched out into the street.

“Do you want me to cross you?” she yelled. She held up her stop sign, even when no cars were there.

“Life is full of changes,” De- Lucia said. “You got to expect change all the time.”