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Washington Open Elementary Celebrates Its Golden Anniversary

The community at Washington Open Elementary School has been partying like it’s 1973 to celebrate the parent-participation school’s 50th anniversary.

“Washington Open started in the 1973 to 1974 school year,” said Sherry Ernst, an alumni parent and a retired fourth grade teacher at the school. “Initially, the program was called Westwood Open. In 1996, the school moved to the campus it is at now on Washington Street. When we moved, we voted on a new name – Washington Open – and a new school logo.”

Now a volunteer at Washington Open, Ernst has been active on the school’s 50th anniversary planning committee with school parents, faculty and staff.


“On the 50th day of school during this school year, we had a scavenger hunt for students where they went all around campus finding our logo in 50 different places,” said Elisha Gargiulo, a former president of the Washington Open Parent Faculty Group (WOPFG) and a member of the 50th anniversary planning committee. “Kristina Santos, yard duty staff, made vinyl stickers of our logo and put them all around the school. Kids came out and did their scavenger hunt and got a special anniversary pencil as a keepsake. On the 50th day of school, the students and staff also received an anniversary T-shirt, paid for by the WOPFG.”

Back in November, the WOPFG hosted its annual fundraising auction, aptly themed the Golden Gala.

On March 6, Steve Zell, one of the school’s founding teachers and the originator of the school’s weekly Open Sing tradition, returned to Washington Open to lead an Open Sing.

An adults-only celebration took place on March 30 at Ace’s in the Pruneridge Golf Course.

“We wanted to give an opportunity for the adults who dedicated so much of their time to the school to get together,” Gargiulo said. “We were fortunate to have some alumni staff, students and parents from all five generations or each decade of the school. So, people who came included people who were here while Washington Open was still at Westwood.”

On May 18, the 50th anniversary planning committee hosted a celebration on campus for all current and past school community members. City Council Member Kathy Watanabe came by and presented a certificate.

During the community-wide celebration, the school’s new welcome area was revealed.

“The WOPFG supported the committee that planned and designed the welcome area of the school and paid for the materials needed for the project,” Gargiulo said. “Anna Klara Maj, a school parent who’s a landscape designer, helped design the space with a committee. There are logs and tables people can gather at. There are new native plants that were put into this eco-friendly place.”

“It was a gathering of people to get together and socialize,” said Principal Heidi Pilawski. “A lot of alumni staff and retired teachers came back and gave the community a chance to check in with them. We did an Open Sing. There was cake and refreshments.”

“50 years is a big milestone for any program,” Pilawski continued. “Washington Open creates a village for all families to help support and raise their kids. This community feels like a return to simpler times when a village would band together to raise its children.”


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