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‘A positive sendoff’: community says goodbye to Stocking after 100 years

Farewell event also held for East Leonard

The Staff Notes sing ‘America the Beautiful’ outside Stocking Elementary

Grand Rapids — From the look of the brick to the sound of the loudspeakers, everything was sparking memories during a recent farewell celebration for Stocking Elementary.

Stocking and East Leonard elementaries are the first of 10 Grand Rapids Public Schools buildings the district is shuttering as part of a consolidation effort outlined in the “Reimagine GRPS With Us!” facilities master plan. As the last week of the school year drew to a close, community members were invited to walk the halls and reminisce during sendoff events for the two schools

Stocking’s closure comes at the tail end of a milestone, as the school just celebrated its 100th anniversary. Though hundreds came to say their goodbyes, there was perhaps no one in attendance more sad to see Stocking go than 12-year-old Elijah Pearson. 

‘This was the best place ever. … This whole building, the whole feel, was very much community and family oriented, with beautiful support from the parents.’

— Anne Rossi, former second-grade teacher at Stocking Elementary

Elijah attended Stocking from preschool through fifth grade before moving on to Westwood Middle School. For the past few months, he’s been making daily after-school pilgrimages to the school to visit with former teachers in anticipation of the closure, said Principal Michael Thomasma. 

“He really, really loves it here,” Thomasma said. “He might be the most enthusiastic student we’ve ever had.”

During the farewell event, Elijah was schmoozing with staff and pointing himself out in old class photos on the walls, lamenting that it would likely be one of his last chances to visit the school.

“I feel kind of sad,” he said. “This building’s been here a long time and I made a lot of good memories here. I love this school so much.”

Regarding the next steps for the Stocking building, Elijah would like to see it remain in use.

“I hope they do something that’s good for the school and good for this area,” he said.

The Same Sights, Sounds

Scott Vandenheuvel, who attended Stocking in the late ‘70s, stopped by during the open house to see what had changed in the last 50 years. As it turns out, not much. 

“Well that doesn’t sound any different,” Vandenheuvel said with a chuckle as the intercom buzzed and crackled to announce what was next on the schedule. 

Like Elijah, Vandenheuvel hopes the building is put to good use.

“I’m a little sad that there is some talk of tearing it down,” he said, adding that it “would be an interesting idea” to transform the building into condo housing.

Dawn Klein, a Stocking student from the late ‘50s, was caught up in the nostalgia of the moment, examining spaces from her childhood that appeared almost unchanged.

“This is the gymnasium, and this was the stage where all of our pictures got taken,” Klein said, holding up one of those very class photos on her phone, the screen filled with a black-and-white portrait of Klein as an elementary student.

She doesn’t want the building to close, but she understands that times have changed and the district has to reconfigure its facilities a bit. She just hopes the school can be repurposed.

“It’s very sad,” she said. “It’s been here for 100 years. … I hope they don’t tear it down.” 

In the classrooms, former students and teachers talked about their memories of Stocking from its first few decades. 

“This was the best place ever,” said former second-grade teacher Anne Rossi, who talked up the welcoming environment cultivated by administrators, parents and the community as a whole. 

“This whole building, the whole feel, was very much community and family oriented, with beautiful support from the parents,” Rossi said, adding that she wishes the school could remain open. 

“It makes you melancholy,” she said.

‘Moving to the Next Step’

Thomasma said the recent farewell event was important for current and former students and staff, and for the greater community. 

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate the 100 years of learning and education, and all the people that have walked through these hallways,” Thomasma said. “Just … to celebrate our school, our families, the parents and everyone that’s helped us and been there for the school throughout the years.”

Though it’s sad to see a school close at the end of its 100th anniversary year, the celebration was “a positive sendoff,” Thomasma said.

Stephen Fiorenzo, 8, points to where he signed his name at the farewell to Stocking event

“We are closing, which is sad, but we’re really kind of trying to focus on just moving to the next step,” Thomasma said. “We’re excited for the things to come, but just working through saying goodbye to our families and our community partners.”

At the Stocking event, attendees gathered for a special performance of “America The Beautiful” by the Staff Notes, a choral group composed of four GRPS choir teachers. During a presentation to the crowd, GRPS Superintendent Leadriane Roby said the song choice was a callback to the opening of Stocking in 1924, when the song was also performed.

“This is part of what makes Grand Rapids Public Schools so very special,” Roby told the crowd. “Our staff, our scholars, our alumni, our neighbors, all are here tonight to spend time as a community. We truly want to celebrate the learning that has happened inside of this building and in this community over the last 100 years.” 

Visitors at East Leonard got to look back, too, unearthing a time capsule from the school’s 1957 opening. The capsule contained old editions of the Grand Rapids Press and Grand Rapids Herald, as well as classroom pictures of the first group of students.

More to Come

Current Stocking students will move to Harrison Park and Sibley elementary schools next year, and those from East Leonard will head to Kent Hills or Coit, but what’s next for the buildings themselves has yet to be determined, said district spokesperson Luke Stier.

“There’s no solidified plan yet,” Stier said. “We’re engaging with the community. We want to hear ideas. We want to hear what the community wants. Do they want affordable family housing? Is parkland greenspace more important? That’s the kind of feedback we’re looking to get.”

‘This is part of what makes Grand Rapids Public Schools so very special. Our staff, our scholars, our alumni, our neighbors, all are here tonight to spend time as a community. We truly want to celebrate the learning that has happened inside of this building and in this community over the last 100 years.’

— GRPS Superintendent Leadriane Roby

Stier said there were opportunities to provide feedback about what’s next during the open house events, and there will be more to come.

“Here at Stocking, we are devoted to finding a new use for this building that will be a value-add to our community,” Roby said. “That is the commitment of myself, that is the commitment of our school board. 

“We believe, as we right-size our district and bring more scholars and staff together, we’ll be able to offer and devote additional resources for more robust programming that supports everyone.”

Read more from Grand Rapids: 
Area districts receive EPA funding for electric buses
Southwest’s first graduation marks a victory for the community

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Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley is a reporter covering Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids and Sparta school districts. An award-winning journalist, Riley spent eight years with the Ludington Daily News, reporting, copy editing, paginating and acting as editor for its weekly entertainment section. He also contributed to LDN’s sister publications, Oceana’s Herald-Journal and the White Lake Beacon. His reporting on issues in education and government has earned accolades from the Michigan Press Association and Michigan Associated Press Media Editors. Riley’s early work in journalism included a stint as an on-air news reporter for WMOM Radio, and work on the editorial staff of various student publications. Riley is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. He originally hails from western Washington.


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