TERRE HAUTE —
Custodian Ray Barrett knows every corner of Chauncey Rose Middle School.
He’s been on the roof, on ladders throughout the building, up and down the hallways for the past 30 years -- more than half of his life — working at the innercity school. It has become like his second home, and the staff and students like a second family.
“I came from a broken home, and maybe that’s why I stayed here,” Barrett said Thursday afternoon before a graduation exercise for the final eigth-grade class. “I can relate to these kids.”
Barrett actually retired last November, but after the school came up short on custodial help, he rejoined the staff March 13.
Come next fall, this year’s sixth- and seventh-grade CRMS students will attend either Woodrow Wilson or Otter Creek middle school. Barrett will be retired, and the teachers and staff will have made their own career decisions.
But Thursday was a bittersweet day for Barrett — and veteran teacher Julia Foltz-Pelham. The two long-time friends shared good memories of the school with visitors.
“This is the best school — bar none — in Vigo County,” Foltz-Pelham declared. “You will not find a kinder, family-oriented staff.”
“That’s the thing,” Barrett agreed. “They’re family-oriented.”
The school staff has each other through professional changes and personal challenges as an extended part of their jobs. When co-workers experienced illness or tragedies in their families, Foltz-Pelham said, others stepped in to bring food or fill in for missed duties.
“There’s not another school like this, so I don’t want to go anywhere else,” Foltz-Pelham said of her reason for retiring at the end of this school year. “I don’t want to compare.”
But because she has taught in Texas and northern Indiana in the past, she does note that those communities of her past do not measure up to the Chauncey Rose community.
When she came to the Terre Haute school, and through the years since, the school has had a hard-scrabble reputation to live down at times.
Barrett agrees he has heard some negative talk from outsiders, but he is quick to tell gossipers that they are not talking about the school and people he knows so well.
Some substitute teachers have been nervous on their first day in the school, he said, but once they have been in the building five minutes, they lose all apprehensions.
Everyone pitches in to do the right thing, he said.
“And it’s not just the custodians or teachers,” Foltz-Pelham said. “It’s also the students and parents. We’ve taught the children to be that way.”
In the hallway outside the main office, a wall plaque honors CRMS with the “Clean School Award” presented by the administration of the Vigo County School Corp. for “a superior cleanliness level in and around the school.”
The school has a long history in the life of the Terre Haute community. The site along 13th Street between Locust Street and Third Avenue was the original site of Rose Polytechnic Institute, which later moved to the current campus of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology on U.S. 40.
The site later housed Gerstmeyer High School from 1922 to 1971. A hallway of history next to the gymnasium recalls the athletic prowess of long ago high school teams, as well as the basketball coaching expertise of the late, legendary Howard Sharpe.
Another wall highlights Chauncey Rose athletic achievements since 1972.
Dean of students Meg Merrill said the school has long had a reputation of caring for its community.
For instance, a memorial garden has been maintained for several years to honor teachers, students and staff who have died. More than 20 stones had been placed in the garden through the years, and just recently as part of the school closing, those stones were removed and cleaned to be presented to surviving family members.
All but seven stones have been claimed, she said, and anyone who might have a family connection to one of the remaining stones is urged to claim it soon.
In the cafeteria, the final day of school had a special meaning to “The Spice Girls.” They are the lunch ladies -- led by Tammy Spice and a crew that includes Sue Mace.
“They aren’t just cooks,” Merrill said of The Spice Girls. “They spoil us rotten, and we love them.”
Spice and Mace are taking their cafeteria skills to Terre Haute North Vigo High School next school year. And that may mean they transfer their “adoption” powers to those students as well.
Mace said the cafeteria staff has enjoyed giving special attention — such as extra ice cream or buying a winter coat — for students who need it.
Back in the Chauncey Rose gymnasium, after departing eigth-graders had marched, strolled and self-consciously walked to their seats of honor, retiring teacher Foltz-Pelham gave a brief graduation message to the students.
CRMS is not just a middle school, she said, but like a family and a team.
“And, yes, I will miss being called ‘Mom’ by many of you,” she said tearfully.
A standing ovation from the students and fellow teachers and staff reflected that statement.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.
TERRE HAUTE —
Custodian Ray Barrett knows every corner of Chauncey Rose Middle School.
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