Madison Elementary celebrates 50 years in Wheaton

  • Students and teachers form the number "50" Monday outside Madison Elementary in Wheaton, in honor of the school's 50th anniversary.

      Students and teachers form the number "50" Monday outside Madison Elementary in Wheaton, in honor of the school's 50th anniversary. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Principal Tim Callahan talks with students and teachers during their photo shoot Monday at Madison Elementary in Wheaton. The kids and staff formed the No. 50 in honor of the school's 50th anniversary.

      Principal Tim Callahan talks with students and teachers during their photo shoot Monday at Madison Elementary in Wheaton. The kids and staff formed the No. 50 in honor of the school's 50th anniversary. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Reading specialist Lisa Tomek is the only teacher left at Madison Elementary who was hired by the school's first principal in the early 1980s. She said it has been fun to watch the kids celebrate the school's 50th anniversary this year.

      Reading specialist Lisa Tomek is the only teacher left at Madison Elementary who was hired by the school's first principal in the early 1980s. She said it has been fun to watch the kids celebrate the school's 50th anniversary this year. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 5/4/2015 6:25 PM

On the surface, a lot has changed at Madison Elementary School since it opened in Wheaton 50 years ago.

A kindergarten classroom now sits where the gym used to be. A kitchen for teachers is now a reading room. An addition on the east side of the building is home to many new classrooms.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The structural changes are huge," said Lisa Tomek, the only teacher in the building who has worked under all three principals who have led the school.

But the heart of Madison -- the wonderful students, caring families and loyal teachers -- has remained unchanged since its beginnings, Tomek said.

"It was a place I wanted to come back to and wanted to stay," she said, referencing her return to teaching after a 10-year hiatus to care for her family between 1992 and 2002.

On Monday, the kindergarten through fifth-grade students -- most dressed in the school color, blue -- assembled outside to form a "50" for a yearbook picture.

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There was lots of laughter and smiles as photographers stood on the roof and told the kids to yell "Happy!" and "We're the best!"

"This is so fun. It's a great way to recognize the 50 years," said Christy Phanthavong, a mother who was watching her two children line up for the photo.

Phanthavong and her sister, Wendy Payne, both attended Madison in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their mother was a former PTA president. Now, their children are students at the school.

Phanthavong said she has fond memories of gym class and eating Popsicles on the last day of school. Payne remembered learning prepositions and an annual talent show.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It was a great community back then and it's a great one now," Phanthavong said.

Payne said she even stays in touch with some of the friends she made at Madison.

"I think that says a lot," she said.

In the weeks leading up to the photo, the students learned about each decade Madison students lived through, starting with the 1960s.

Now that the students have gone through all the decades, they are learning about time capsules and plan to assemble one for 2015 before the end of the year, said Principal Tim Callahan.

The two former principals, William Stone, who served through the 1980s, and Gene Sikorski came to visit the kids during assemblies. A few former teachers stopped by, too, including a beloved gym instructor, Ed Smith.

During the assemblies the students had a chance to listen to music from each decade and see old photos of popular toys and clothing and yearbook pictures of past Madison students. There were also dress-up days throughout the year for each decade.

"The staff gets into that more, I think, than the kids, but it's fun for the kids to see too," said first-grade teacher Molly Karlsson, who attended Madison in the 1990s.

Karlsson's fourth- and second-grade teachers still work at the school. She said it has been fun to get to know them in a new way. And she said her memories of Madison "being a really happy and fun place" still ring true.

"It's been interesting," she said of the 50th anniversary celebration. "It's a nice walk down memory lane."

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