Everyone knew this day would come, but that didn't make it any easier.
Five schools — Brentwood Middle, Charlestowne Academy, Fraser Elementary, McClellanville Middle and Schroder Middle — closed their doors for good Friday, and five school communities grieved the loss.
It was a difficult and emotional day for students and staff alike. Some were optimistic about the future while others were anxious and fearful. And while some students looked forward to their summer break, many others felt the pain of more permanent goodbyes.
The school board made the decision in January to shutter the schools to save money and to give kids better opportunities elsewhere. At the time the district faced a projected $28 million deficit, and these five schools were among the lowest achieving in the district.
Some schools, such as Fraser Elementary, fought to remain, open while others, such as Brentwood Middle, were silent. No one succeeded in changing the board's mind.
Most students and staff know where they'll be next year, but officials are less clear about what's going to happen to the empty buildings.
Schools held ceremonies this week to commemorate their historic end. At rural McClellanville Middle, its 77 students gathered outside the school Wednesday to receive awards and honor their alma mater. The school building once housed a segregated high school, and it later housed an elementary school but closed in 1983 when St. James-Santee Elementary opened. The building reopened in 1991 as a middle school.
Carrie Gibbs, one of the school's former principals, came to pay tribute to the school. She, like many others in the community, isn't happy that McClellanville Middle is closing, but she understood that its enrollment has dropped. She's glad that area students still will be able to go to school near their homes, and she's especially grateful that Lincoln High School will stay open.
"Keeping the high school open is more of a focus," she said.
During the ceremony, Kim Livingston, the school's media specialist, attempted to explain to the crowd through tears that instead of doing a yearbook, students had compiled a book that chronicled the school's history.
"It's to preserve the memories of the school for the next generation," she said. "It's dedicated to all of us who have made the school work and to the students who are here today. I want the best for you."
The school has a small, tight-knit teaching staff, and Livingston said later that it's hard knowing that her colleagues and friends will be scattering to schools across the district. They had a book club and occasionally met for dinner or lunch. Students come and go, but teachers stay year after year. She's going to miss their friendship.
Erica Collenton, an eighth-grader, sobbed her way through a speech to her classmates. She said she felt as if she'd found a second home, and how it's difficult leaving a place where she has grown so much.
"The school means so much to me and many others, and the thought of it closing gnaws at me, day in and day out," she said.
She holds a special place in her heart for the building, but it's the people she's leaving that Collenton said she'll miss the most.
On Friday, the last day of school, Schroder Middle in Hollywood hosted a field day for students. Many said it seemed like any other day as they played tug-of-war and basketball.
The reality began to set in a little later for some in Miriam Wright's seventh-grade class after they watched a slide show with pictures from the year. Some students cried after watching it, and they became even more emotional after they received their yearbooks. They hugged, signed their friends' shirts and yearbooks and promised to stay in touch.
Wright, who's taught at Schroder 29 years, has been disappointed that the board chose to close Schroder, and she said the school's constant faculty and administrative turnover made it difficult to produce results.
"I don't think we were given an opportunity to show what these kids are capable of doing," she said.
She seemed business-as-usual until officials called for the first round of bus riders to leave her class. She stood up and told her class, "It has been a pleasure, and I'm not going to say much." Her tears made it difficult for her to talk.
One of her students, seventh-grader Tyla Williams, sat outside her school and cried while waiting for her bus.
"The year ended too fast for me," she said. "We might not see some of these people again."