Kleenex soothed red eyes and wiped away tears during the last school assembly at Canyon Elementary on Friday, June 3.
The decision to close the school was made in February 2010. Columbia Falls school district enrollment has declined around 8 percent over the last decade, and this loss of students has resulted in funding cuts for the district. The loss at Canyon accounted for most of the decline in elementary school enrollment for the district - Canyon lost 60 percent of its students since 1996.
"It's all about funding decisions and it sucks," said Dianna Lybbert, mother of both a first- and fifth-grader who attended the school. "We're so thankful for the time that we've had here."
Canyon students, teachers and staff will attend schools in Columbia Falls for the next school year.
Lybbert said one of the biggest changes for her children will be the commute to school. They live about 10 miles from Canyon Elementary and most likely will have to ride the school bus into Columbia Falls. It will make for a very long commute, she said.
Her fifth-grader was already set to attend junior high in Columbia Falls in August, but at this point she's unsure which Columbia Falls elementary school will house her soon to be second-grader.
"We're not going to be as involved. We're not going to drive an hour for an 8:30 a.m. assembly when we work up here," she said. "I think the hardest part is going to be losing the family of staff and support we have up here."
Lybbert said the close-knit community surrounding Canyon Elementary made attending the school special. The family wants to follow as many transferred Canyon teachers as they can when choosing a new elementary school to attend.
Although the school district will have to cut several teaching and staff positions this year, Canyon teachers and staff will be transferred to Columbia Falls High School, Ruder Elementary or Glacier Gateway Elementary.
The district's job cuts were made based on seniority, and all the Canyon teachers have been part of the district long enough that cuts won't affect them.
School secretary Kristin Kavanagh has worked in Canyon's new building since its inception in 1988. Her children attended the school, and some of the current teachers attended the school when they were younger.
"It's a sad day," she said.
While the decision to close the school disappointed school and community members, Kavanagh said the staff at Canyon understands the reasoning behind the decision, and the school was glad to have a year to adjust and prepare for the big change.
The school board planned to close the school a year ago but decided to keep the school open on a scaled-back basis because of the outcry from school staff and the community. Closing the school last year would have saved the district about $900,000. Instead, it cost about $730,000 to operate the school this year, superintendent Michael Nicosia said.
The school district lost 2.2 percent of next year's elementary budget during this year's legislative session. As a result, money saved on closing Canyon Elementary will go toward balancing the budget.
Part-time physical education teacher and fourth-grade math teacher Tyler Jones thinks the biggest loss of the school will be leaving such a nice facility empty and unused.
However, the building in Hungry Horse will not go to waste. The school board has approached several local groups about using the school, including a daycare, preschool and children's ministry.
Despite the loss of such a large part of the close community, Kavanagh thinks the kids are going to do fine at their new schools.
"Kids are pretty resilient," she said. "It's harder for parents than it is for the kids."