Au Revoir, Tappan Hill

Tappan Hill School, Tarrytown, NYTappan Hill School is closing its doors.

This should not be news to anyone in our community by this point, but nevertheless, I find it jarring to write those words. Due to the ages of my children, this closure directly affects my family. We straddle the divide – one child attended Tappan Hill, one child will not.

Intellectually, I understand the reasons for this drastic measure. In fact, I support them. After talking with Principal Milliam, I feel confident that the nurturing environment which her administration and staff brought to Tappan Hill will find a new home at John Paulding without skipping a beat. I have confidence that my youngest will enjoy the same care and attention that my eldest experienced, regardless of location. The future is bright for both of my children. However, this does not mean that I can’t shed a tear or two at the reality the nationwide economic nightmare has forced upon us.

I will miss Tappan Hill. I will miss its Mayberry-esque seclusion as it sits, a haven on the hill, surrounded by foliage. I will miss the turnaround circle in front of the main entrance, complete with requisite flagpole, shrubbery, and spring daffodils that always seem to come up earlier than any other daffodils in Tarrytown. I will miss the three playgrounds, and how I didn’t even know the back one existed until about April or May of my daughter’s year in attendance. I will miss the fish tank that welcomes you as you enter the building, and the stuffed fish that was always crammed against the wall behind it. I will miss walking my child to school along the secret path running behind the modular classroom and tossing ball after ball back over the fence and into the playground, often to the delight of a captive audience.

But these are wistful thoughts from the side of me that fears change. John Paulding has a very nice turnaround circle in front of the building, and I’m sure the powers that be will still find a way to shower the children with bubbles from the rooftop to the tune of the Jackson 5’s “ABC” on the last day of school. (Were you even aware of that truly awesome tradition? Truly magical, and so awesomely dangerous for the gym teacher on the roof!) The fish tank, I would assume, will make the trip to John Paulding, but will the stuffed fish?

And I can always throw balls at children.

Truth be told, my son won’t know or care that he’s not going to Tappan Hill. All he cares about is that he’s a big boy and he’s going to kindergarten. He’ll make friends, learn, play, sing, listen, and grow. Because in the end what matters are not the walls, windows and doors, but the people within them. I mean it’s not like the Board of Education is going to  replace all the teachers with culinarily-inclined, flesh-eating zombies. “Welcome to Kindergarten, class. Today we’re going to be marinating ourselves in a white wine sauce with garlic and lemon. Everyone choose a vat and climb in.”

On the contrary, the people – teachers, staff, administrators – will be the same ones who have made Tappan Hill the magical place it has become. Next year, they will simply be performing their miracles – just off Broadway. (And how many of them have always dreamed of performing off-Broadway?) Mrs. Milliam will continue to roam the halls of her fiefdom; the hall is simply a bit longer. Kids will draw pictures, work on the Smartboard, eat paste, and so forth. When the year is over, they will rush off to 1st Grade at Morse, and we’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. Memories will fade, and Tappan Hill will become a figure of myth and legend, and our grandchildren will turn to us one day and ask, “My dear, senile, old Grandparent, is it true that the Tappan Hill Virtual Ski Palace and Mud Bath Hut used to be a Kindergarten?”

And we’ll answer, “Eh? Speak up! Damn kids! Go away!”

At the end of the day, we’re all going to say goodbye in our own way. Tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to walk over to Tappan Hill some night when the moon is full, bearing an offering consisting of a handful of B and C- level reading books and some sidewalk chalk, perform a sacred ritual which will look and sound uncannily like the Hokey Pokey, and give thanks to the Gods of Tappan Hill for their service over the past umpteen years in nurturing, protecting, and educating our children. Next, I will go out back and roll around in one of the sandboxes wearing only a speedo and a very stretched-out Dora the Explorer shirt to better commune with my inner child.

If I haven’t been arrested by that point, I’ll probably steal Principal Milliam’s parking sign. I’ve been eyeing that for a long time.

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About the Author: David Neilsen