Standing tall

To the editor:

It was a privilege to spend 18 years as the principal of Duncombe School. The Duncombe community is a source of pride and was something I was eager to share. Most people do not associate “tour guide” as part of a principal’s duties, but to me it was the best part of the job. A principal can talk about the positives of their school, but by visiting the classrooms, hallways, and playgrounds, a visitor can feel firsthand the energy, excitement, and learning that is taking place. You can measure the heart of the school.

I loved giving tours and I gave a lot of them. One the most memorable was the FDSH Class of 1946, who wanted to revisit their old elementary school. On the day of the tour we made small talk about today’s educational issues, the “new” Duncombe addition (new in 1951), and present-day Duncombe demographics. However, when the tour started, it didn’t take long to see I had been tuned out. Current issues were far from their minds; this day was all about the past. They were busy visiting classrooms and reminiscing about their elementary years. “Do you remember singing around the Christmas tree, the ice skating rink, carrying sack lunches, the kindergarten classroom, do you remember when … ?”

Suddenly, Duncombe School was full of school children from the 1930s. They shared about favorite subjects, favorite teachers, classmates, adventures and misadventures. They even spoke favorably of their principal! There were many laughs, and even a few tears. It was inspiring to see how walking the halls of Duncombe could evoke genuine emotion after more than fifty years.

This tour reaffirmed what I already knew. An elementary school is more than brick and mortar, more than a standardized test score, and more than multiplication tables. It’s about sharing, exploring, developing, learning about yourself and others, and establishing lasting relationships and friendships. Elementary education is a fundamental part of growing up. An elementary school is a fundamental part of a community.

Duncombe is beginning to show its age, and the building is beginning to sag. Even brick and mortar will not last forever. What the Class of ’46 showed me is that schools last a lifetime in the memories of the students who walked the halls. I believe that when former students recall their elementary years, Duncombe School will be standing, like always, straight, tall and rock solid!

Stephen Harbaugh

Fort Dodge