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Faced with change, pupils look back -- and then ahead Era ends for 60th, 66th Street schools

Bobbie V. Payne, a normally upbeat 12-year-old fifth-grader at 60th Street Elementary School, was not a happy camper Thursday.

At 66th Street Elementary School a day earlier, fifth-grader Anthony J. Mittiga, 11, was feeling a bit nostalgic.

Both pupils -- and their classmates -- were sad because their schools will close for good after today, victims of restructuring that has come with declining enrollment in the Niagara Falls School District.

"I'm going to miss this school because I've been here ever since kindergarten," Anthony said of 66th Street Elementary. "I'm sad it's closing. We have so many good teachers here. And not all of them will be going to the new school."

Pupils from both schools will go to Cataract Elementary School in September. That school will be set up in what is now Niagara Middle School, currently one of three middle schools in the district. It closes today, too, and pupils who otherwise would have gone there will end up next school year at either an elementary school or at Gaskill or LaSalle prep schools.

Sixth-graders, who previously would have attended one of the middle schools, will remain in one of the district's elementary schools. The two prep schools will serve seventh- and eighth-graders.

The district has lost 1,400 students during the past five years and currently reports enrollment at 7,666.

Public schools in the city had 19,182 students in 1962, its peak enrollment year.

That means changes are in store for pupils like Bobbie.

"I've been here three years," he said of 60th Street Elementary, "and I like this school better than the other places I've been. The teachers are great. They know how to make our work fun and make sure we get everything done. All my brothers and sisters wanted to come here."

He said teacher Alan Leo is an example of the kind of teacher he will miss. "He even gives you his phone number so you can call him if you're having trouble with homework," Bobbie said.

Christopher M. Lorenz, 11, said he felt he had found a home at 66th Street school.

"This is my first year here, so it's sad to see this school close," Christopher said. "It will be the second time I've had a school close on me. I went to Niagara Street, and it got torn down. Then I came here, and I was just getting used to it. Now I've got to move again. If I had a choice, I'd stay here for sixth grade."

Adrienne M. Shelton, a 10-year-old fourth-grader at 60th Street, is among those who will be leaving with fond memories of the school.
"I'm going to miss [Principal Manning] Fogan," she said, "because he's so much fun. He even volunteered to have a whipped cream pie thrown at him on Fun Day. And the staff and the Parent Education Group put together a lot of fun things for us all year long. At Thanksgiving they put on a feast.

"For Halloween they had us make caramel apples and had a lot of other activities," Adrienne said. "I'm going to miss this school so much because it's so much fun here."

But Adrienne and other pupils tried to look on the bright side. They will leave older schools -- 60th Street School opened in 1962 and 66th Street School opened in 1955 -- to go to a new, bigger school.
"I'm looking forward to bigger classrooms and two art rooms at the new school," said Zachary Dean, 11, who just finished fifth grade at 60th Street. "I'm looking forward to having our own lockers. We share them here with two or three people. I'm looking forward to hotter and better lunches because here our school lunches are made somewhere else and have to be reheated."

Anthony said he believes the new school will offer pupils more activities, and because all the kids from 60th Street will be there, "you'll get to make a lot of new friends."

Christopher said he is happy there's a swimming pool at the new school. "We don't have one here," he said.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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