“Everybody always talked about the wonderful little school up on the hill named Byrd”
Story and photos by Greg Mitchell
66 years ago, Richard E. Byrd Elementary School opened with the mission to provide quality education to children of the Negishi Houning Annex to Yokosuka Base. On June 9th of this year, the school closed its doors forever, concluding a long historical chapter in forward deployed, dependent-based education. A total of 35 students ended Byrd’s final school year. All returning elementary school students will attend the new Ikego Elementary School which is currently under construction but, going along as planned for a fall 2014 opening.
“Thank you for inviting me here today,” said guest speaker, Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Capt. David T. Glenister. “Mrs. Glenister is sorry she could not come here; she and I have so much fun reading to you in the library and being the ‘mystery reader.’ Ceremonies are important – like birthdays,and graduations, they help us remember these moments. They help us to remember that, this really just happened!”
Glenister emphasized that the students growth every year is in a sense the same as what is happening at Byrd Elementary; that it too has grown up and that the time had come for the school to move on. “Byrd Elementary has been around for more than 60 years, and everyone who has been a student here I am sure has great memories, and when they look back on their time here they smile.”
Glenister continued on.
“Do you know what you call people that have attended a particular school? They are called ‘alumni’. Well, ALL of you are alumni of Byrd Elementary. In fact, you are a very special group. Because after you– there won’t be any more alumni – you are the last. No one will ever be able to take away from you that you are alumni of Byrd Elementary.”
Byrd Namesake Rear Adm. Richard Evelyn Byrd (1888 – 1957) graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1912 and then went on to flight training at Pensacola, Florida in 1917 during World War I. He was then assigned as the commanding officer, U.S. Naval Stations in Canada, where he pioneered night and all- weather flying and also designed navigational instruments.
In 1926, he took a leave of absence from the Navy to lead an expedition to the Arctic Circle. On May 9, he and his copilot, Floyd Bennett, announced to the world that they had flown over the North Pole. Both men were awarded the Medal of Honor for their efforts.
In 1929, Byrd became the first man to fly over the South Pole. In total, Byrd made five expeditions to Antarctica and contributed more to the geographic discovery of the Antarctic Continent than anyone else until mid-20th century.
Originally named Negishi Heights Elementary School, Richard E. Byrd Elementary School opened on September 20, 1948. The name was officially changed to R.E. Byrd Elementary School on April 5, 1960.A unique part of Byrd history Khadijah Jordan has the distinct honor as the last child to have attended the school from kindergarten, all the way through fifth-grade. With her family, parents Alawn and Takako Jordan, and her older sister Nia, Khadijah has lived in the Negishi community since she was born.
“Over the years, it has really been fun to see many nice teachers and classmates who came here and alsoleft,” said Jordan. “It’s kind of historical because its 66 years old and my sister used to come here. She is now a freshman at Nile C. Kinnick high school. I really like living in Negishi because it is usually quiet and everybody knows each other in the community.”
Now that the school is closing, Jordan was asked if she had any memorable ties to the school. She thought for a second then finally something came to mind.“Oh, in second and third grade we had what was called Fun Friday,” said Jordan. “We did not do much, just play on computers, watch movies and eat popcorn and played different games like Twister. At the end of the day we got to reach into this basket that had a special prize inside. I liked that very much.”
Reminiscing about the past: “There’s no place like Byrd and Negishi” “We lived in Negishi and working here was just an amazing experience,” said former principal Gwendolyn Baxter-Oakley. “It was my first job as a principal and my daughter also attended the school and everybody that comes through the hallways – it’s just a wonderful feeling to be a part of this school and the history and throughout out my three and a half years here, students always came back. They just loved the school and once you’ve been in the school and taken part in the activities – you can see why because it’s like you’re in the mist of Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan – this is just a quaint little community that you just don’t find anymore. It’s like living in a small town; everybody works together and knows each other and the kids are just wonderful. It was such a good place to have my first experience as a principal and there is no place like Bryd and Negishi.”
“We are a family here at Byrd Elementary”
Festivities on the final day consisted of an opening ceremony, outdoor and indoor activity stations and culminating in a comic hooping act performance by circus performer Kristen ‘Tink’ McQuillin. Ikego Elementary School Principal Valerie Rainey was also in attendance to welcome students who will become Ikego Fireflies in the next school year, and presented Ikego School coins to Baxter-Oakley and current school principal, Dr. Tammy Reginelli.
“I want to thank each and every one of you again for welcoming me here to Byrd Elementary School,”said Reginelli, in her closing remarks. “As I said before this morning, it has been fabulous. You all took me in, we hit the ground running and we have not missed a beat. I am so very thankful for each of my parents, for my volunteers, for the USO, for everybody who has been here in support of these students.
We are a family here at Byrd Elementary, and it takes you about 30 seconds to figure that out once youwalk into this door. This is going to be some position to try to top when you move on.” All students were called up front and center and a bell was rung on their behalf. Each was then instructed to apply paint to their hands and leave their imprints on the western multipurpose room wall – the final Penguins to do so.
A commemorative mug with each child’s face on it was then handed out as a final token of appreciation.”It’s really been such a wonderful experience with my daughter attending Byrd,” said Jordan. “With Yokohama, when you come over here and read about Matthew Perry or the opening of Japan, a lot of these events took place in Yokohama, which is one of the first places with foreign settlements in Japan.
With Negishi, you have this connection to the past and so in a way I see the schools’ closing as the ending of an era. It is bitter sweet and really one of the last connections to Yokohama’s past. Jordan ended by saying, “I cannot believe that it is closing down but it will live on in our lives forever.”