Click here to see a photo showcase of the school's farewell.
The school year wound down last week at Assumption-Guadalupe Catholic School — as it did at hundreds of buildings across the metropolitan area — with field trips and field days, graduations and year-end celebrations.
But in this brick building blocks from South Omaha's main thoroughfare, the celebrations were tinged with mourning, a sense of family splitting up and moving away.
Assumption-Guadalupe closed for the last time Thursday, one of three Catholic schools in southeast Omaha that shuttered this spring as part of a realignment of area schools. Holy Ghost School also marked its last day Thursday, followed by St. Stanislaus School on Friday.
In many ways, the schools' stories are familiar to those who have been through previous Catholic school closings or weathered public school consolidations.
But Assumption-Guadalupe's tale is a bit different. In recent years, it's served as a haven for Latino families, many new to the country, just as it did for Eastern European families decades ago. You can see the school's two lives in the Czech titles on the early 1900s graduation programs displayed outside the main office and hear them in the mix of English and Spanish spoken inside.
While there still are some students left whose families date from earlier migrations, some 95 percent come from families that speak Spanish at home, said Rob Laird, who took over as principal for the school's last year and next year will become principal at the Madonna School.
So the plan this year, he said, has been to help families find new homes, mourn the school's loss, celebrate its accomplishments and say thank you for the 100 years of education at this site.
“We had a great year,” Laird said. “It's been a great century of education here, and let's honor that.”
Part of the year also has been spent preparing students and staff for what comes next.
School officials hope many Assumption-Guadalupe families will make a new home at Sts. Peter and Paul School near 36th and X Streets, which the Archdiocese of Omaha is working to make more welcoming to Latino families.
Sts. Peter and Paul will be one of five schools — along with Holy Cross, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Thomas More and St. Bernadette in Bellevue — that next fall will become part of the new Omaha Catholic Schools Consortium. The closings and the consortium, which will have a common governing board and director, are part of a plan aimed at strengthening Catholic schools and parishes in east Omaha.
So far, Laird said, some 56 percent of families with returning students are planning to attend Sts. Peter and Paul. He said he believes that number will increase.
A number of Assumption-Guadalupe staff members also will make the move: three full-time teachers, a teacher who will become a part-time librarian, and secretary Estella Rangel and aide Rosa Ruiz, both of whom are bilingual.
Born in Mexico and now a U.S. citizen, Ruiz knows how difficult the transition can be for newer arrivals. Parents, she said, feel comfortable with someone who knows their language. “They want to be involved in the school, but how can they ask questions and things like that?” she said.
Still, the place and people have felt like family. “We've all said if it had come out differently, I don't think a single one of us would have left,” said second-grade teacher Chris Fuqua, who was in her first year of teaching after going back to school. She will teach at Christ the King School next year.
Trish Wallinger, Sts. Peter and Paul's principal, said she understands it's hard to say goodbye.
But Sts. Peter and Paul is excited to have them. The school will expand programs to offer more than it could have without the changes. She's already anticipating a big welcome celebration.
“We want to make sure we have that same vibe, that same feeling,” she said. “We're waiting with open arms. We want to embrace this new culture.”
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