Third-grader Makenzie Beyke, second from left, asks her classmate, Lauren Seger, left, to check her tongue for cracks during lunchtime on Aug. 7.
The news hit the community hard. When the 2016 referendum passed, many hoped it would alleviate the Northeast Dubois County School Corporation’s financial hardships enough to keep Celestine open. But as enrollment across the corporation continued to fall — resulting in less state funding for the school district — it became clear that Celestine would be shuttered.
“We fought as hard as we could to keep it open,” said Danielle Schnell, who organizes the scrip fundraising program for Celestine Elementary, which allows patrons to purchase gift cards to various retailers with a portion of their purchase donated to the school.
Danielle’s four children — sophomore Corbyn, eighth-grader Maddox, sixth-grader Raynie and fourth-grader Kinley — and husband, Lee, all attended Celestine Elementary. When Lee attended Celestine Elementary in the late 1980s, the principal was a nun and the school operated under strict rules.
“Almost too strict, I thought,” Lee remembered. “But looking back on it, I’m grateful for it.”
By the time his children entered Celestine, some of the strict rules and Lee’s principal were gone, but a lot of the teachers Lee had were still there, including Jami Gress.
Jami taught Lee when he was in fourth grade, and years later, Lee still remembers the real-world lessons she taught, like how to balance a checkbook. She was also among the first teachers to have a computer in her classroom, so Lee and his classmates learned to type before a lot of their peers. When the next generation of Schnells came to Celestine, Jami — who now teaches second grade — taught three of the four.
“It’s funny that you talk about the teaching of multiple generations because this year, the majority of my students, I either taught their mom or dad,” Jami said via email. “I think like 10 out of 15.”
This fall, Jami will move to Northeast Dubois Elementary School — currently Dubois Elementary — where she’ll continue to teach second grade, and likely continue to teach the children of former students.
While the knowledge of Celestine’s closing loomed over the school year, teachers and staff worked to make the year just like any other for the students. School days still began with the whole school gathering in the cafeteria for announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance, and the days still ended with all the students sitting in the school’s main hallway waiting for their buses or to be picked up. Head Cook Teresa Knebel still drew her weekly illustrations on the whiteboard next to the lunch menu near where students lined up for lunch. And Veterans Day and Grandparents’ Day — treasured traditions for both the school and the town — took place in the fall semester to offer fun educational experiences for the students and unofficial reunions for some of Celestine’s alumni.
Fourth-graders Eli Adair and Sara Brosmer raise the American flag and Indiana state flag outside Celestine Elementary on Oct. 10. “This duty teaches flag etiquette, flag folding and flag history,” said fourth grade teacher Christine Betz. “I teach them this in their Indiana history class.” The fourth-grade students rotate jobs each week.