New Tech seniors get surprise flashback

May 23, 2016
The Republic

As students and staff at Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. prepare to bring the school year to a close Wednesday, graduating seniors and retiring teachers alike are reflecting on their careers with the district as they prepare for the future.

For one group of soon-to-be graduates from Columbus Signature Academy — New Tech campus, such reflections took them all the way back to fifth grade, when they were among the first group of students to enroll in Columbus Signature Academy — Lincoln Campus in its inaugural year of 2008.

That year, Michelle Spear, a fifth-grade teacher at Lincoln who is retiring this year, asked her students to write letters to themselves — letters about the future of the school and about their own futures.

Spear kept those letters sealed away for the past eight years, but surprised her former fifth-graders last week by presenting them with the words they wrote to themselves, marking the end of both their high school careers and Spear’s teaching career with a reunion that brought memories, smiles and even a few tears.

“It’s very heartwarming,” Spear said.

When CSA — Lincoln opened in the 2008-09 school year, Debbie Yates, who was principal at the time, asked all teachers in the school to have the group of inaugural students write letters to themselves about the future.

Spear, who has taught fifth grade at Lincoln since it opened, led her class through the letter-writing exercise, sealed the letters up and put them away, largely forgetting about them until this year, when she realized the group of students who wrote them would be graduating.

She arranged to meet the seniors with their letters at CSA — New Tech, where she asked each of them to share the contents of their correspondences with the group.

“I could not remember what they were asked to write,” Spear said.

But as each student read his or her words aloud, Spear said she recalled that they had been asked to write about what CSA — Lincoln would look like in the future. Because the school was still being established, the walls were partially empty as teachers awaited the arrival of new technology that had yet to be installed.

But amid the students’ predictions about the future of the school, Spear said there were also personal notes they had written to themselves about their own futures and about life as a fifth-grader in general.

“They were all laughing and saying things like, ‘Look at my handwriting,’” Spear said.

The most special part of the reunion was discovering that many of her students’ had held onto their passions from fifth grade all the way to the end of their high school careers, Spear said.

For example, Chris Mullis was enthralled with airplanes when he was a fifth-grade student, and now plans to go into aviation, his former teacher learned at the reunion.

Sydney Robinson also held onto her fifth-grade dream of opening a bakery in Paris. Her plans after high school include going to school to become a chef.

“To hear that she is planning to follow her dream is really neat,” Spear said.

As she prepares for her own exit from BCSC schools, Spear said she led her final class of fifth-graders through a similar exercise to bookend her time at Lincoln.

In a letter to themselves, Spear said she asked this year’s students to write about three things: the advice they would give to themselves as high school seniors, their goals for high school and their dreams for the future. And to add a personal touch, Spear also asked the students to include their nicknames from fifth grade so that they can see if those nicknames change over time.

Although she is retiring, Spear has pledged to find the fifth-graders when they are high school seniors and give them the letters they wrote to themselves, just like she did with her first group of Lincoln students.

As the end of the school year nears and Spear’s first group of fifth-graders prepare to walk across the stage and receive their diplomas Friday night, she said she is thankful to have had the opportunity to reconnect with them as they all prepare for life after BCSC.

“I can’t ask for a better end to my career,” she said.