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River Bend packs up

Nancy Gillmer packs up Montessori materials Thursday. River Bend Montessori held its last day of class May 27.1 / 4
Reggie McCullough tapes up a box as Nancy Gillmer walks behind her. McCullough and Gillmer have worked at River Bend since it opened two years ago. "We're sad. It's not about us. It's about the kids," McCullough said.2 / 4
Nancy Gillmer washes materials before packing them up. The materials are specialized for use in Montessori classrooms and wouldn't be as effective in traditional classrooms. The materials from River Bend will be put in storage by the Red Wing School District for at least three years.3 / 4
Joan Foot helps pack up the River Bend classroom. Foot was on the River Bend Advisory Committee that helped make the decision last December to close the school at the end of this school year.4 / 4

Nancy Gillmer and Reggie McCullough have spent the last week packing. May 27 marked the final day for River Bend Montessori, and the specialized Montessori materials that have been part of the River Bend classroom for the past two years need to be placed in storage by next week.

"We're sad. It's not about us. It's about the kids," McCullough said.

Last December, the Red Wing School Board accepted a recommendation from River Bend's advisory committee to close the school at the end of this school year. That's just two years into what was originally planned to be a three-year pilot program. The advisory board cited funding and space issues for ending the program jointly operated by the district and the Jones Family Foundation.

"It's a great school," said Jaswin Sawhney, whose daughter Lilia attended River Bend. "It's sad to see it close."

Adam Larson, whose daughter Quinn attended the school, said he and Quinn's mother Amy especially liked the individual attention that each student got and the Montisorri teaching style - which emphasizes simplicity, order and each child's ability to choose how they learn.

"I wish it could have stayed open. It's a ... great opportunity for kids," Larson said. "I'm sad to see it go."

Moving forward

Last Friday, Gillmer and McCullough celebrated the last day with their 12 students with an outdoor picnic.

"It was a nice afternoon. Lots of hugs," Gillmer said.

Each child received a book bag made from curtains that had hung in the classroom and filled with things that had meaning for the close-knit class.

"(It was) very full circle," Gillmer said.

And now, both Gillmer and McCullough are confident their students are prepared to move on.

"They're really going to be ready," McCullough said. "Their confidence level is amazing, just out of this world."

Gillmer said she has met with kindergarten teachers at Sunnyside Elementary - where many of the River Bend students will go - and talked with the students about how their new schools will be different.

"They are prepared to move on to Sunnyside. There are as many success stories at Sunnyside as here," Gillmer said.

Patti Roberts, principal at Sunnyside, said the school has been preparing for the transition by inviting the students and parents into the building for tours and answering questions.

"We are just going to be doing our best to make sure that the transition is very smooth," she said.

Still, Larson said he's worried that there are some things traditional classrooms won't be able to provide.

"I don't think she'll get the same interaction with the students and teachers," he said of his daughter Quinn. "But I know she'll do fine."

Quinn will be enrolled at a public school in Hastings next year after the family relocates there this summer, Larson said.

Looking ahead

Now, those materials, purchased using a grant from the Jones Family Foundation, will be kept together and placed in storage for at least the next three years.

As for both Gillmer and McCullough, they're looking to the future.

"We look forward to the day this is resurrected," Gillmer said.

"The fact that they want to hang on to the material is a good sign," McCullough said.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.