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School's out forever

June 17, 2006|By Chris Wiebe

MAGNOLIA PARK DISTRICT ? For the students and faculty at American Lutheran Elementary School, the last day of school on Thursday carried a significance far more profound than the usual promise of a three-month vacation.

American Lutheran will close its doors for good this year after a 63-year presence in Burbank. Although youthful screams filled the play yard at the school's end-of-the-year play day on Thursday, it was tears, hugs and goodbye wishes that spoke the loudest.

"All the special people here make it like a family, like a home away from home," said kindergarten teacher Jill Roberts, who has taught at American Lutheran since 1977. "It's just so hard for me because being here for 29 years ? that's my life."

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Many of American Lutheran's alumni returned for the school's last day ? like Pasadena resident Jennifer Rez, who graduated from Roberts' kindergarten class in 1979 and whose son, Griffin, 7, was at the school.

Rez's husband, Jason, is also an American Lutheran alumnus.

"I said to myself and to other teachers, 'If one of my students ever came back with their children, I probably would quit,'" Roberts said. "But when Jennifer brought Griffin back, it made me feel good and I said, 'I'm not ready to retire yet.'"

But Burbank's changing demographics and shrinking enrollment figures made it impossible to keep the school open, American Lutheran Church Pastor Ron White said.

"It is really sad, but we didn't really have a choice," he said.

Much of American Lutheran's student body consisted of non-Burbank students whose parents worked in Burbank and wanted their children to attend school in Burbank, White said. When public schools started opening their doors to non-resident students in 2002 in an attempt to counteract their own enrollment difficulties, American Lutheran's enrollment suffered an huge blow, he said.

"It really had to do with the changing demographics of our community, not the quality of our program," White said. "With increasing housing costs, parents have to make a choice: do I pay a mortgage and rent, or do I put my child in private school?"

American Lutheran's last outgoing class recounted fond memories on Thursday between ice-cream cones and water-balloon fights.

"It is a really good school," second-grader Brooke Dawson, 8, said. "We got to do a lot of projects and stuff like that."

For a recent project, Dawson and her class made self-portraits as Father's Day gifts. The portraits were then cut into puzzle pieces, bearing the words, "Without your love I would fall apart."

American Lutheran will hold a camp for first- through fifth-graders during the summer, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call (818) 846-0491.

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