Proficient award for feature photography: “Bulldog Strong: Liberty Elementary Closing Not All Sadness.”

In this photo, students at Liberty Elementary celebrated the last day and their progression to sixth grade with confetti in school colors. There is joy and optimism in their faces, a sense that their life adventure is just beginning. Their shirts read “Bulldog Strong” and serve as both a reminder and recognition of a very special year at Liberty Elementary.

This was the final year of operation for Liberty, currently an elementary school originally built in 1923 as a high school. After 90 years, renovations were cost-prohibitive and would still not bring the building up to state standards nor provide students the caliber of facilities found elsewhere in the district.

Despite the factual data that led to the decision (made several years ago), there were strong emotional ties to the school with current students, staff and alumni. Liberty is also home to numerous legacy families —many have three or four generations who attended the school, some even when it was still a high school.

But, throughout the year the staff and students focused on the positive. All year, events celebrated Liberty students and the school’s history, from a timeline down the main hallway to a community-wide celebration. Current students even showed leadership skills by giving tours of the building to alumni and former staff who wanted to visit before the closing.

On the last day of school — the last day of Liberty — I visited the school to get a sense of the atmosphere. Students had some sense of melancholy, but most were excited to start at another school and begin a new adventure. We know that the spirit of Liberty lives — it is not confined within the walls of the school. This spirit and sense of community is much greater than just a building.