More than a hundred members of the RH Dana Elementary School’s Exceptional Needs Facility community, including former staff members, paraeducators, students, alumni and their families, gathered on Thursday, May 25, to remember the school’s 48-year history.
As the 2022-23 school year ends, so will the RH Dana ENF campus as it plans to merge with the rest of RH Dana Elementary in the upcoming school year.
The event featured a slideshow sharing photos from ENF’s start in 1975 through 2023, signs for ENF community members to leave handprints on, music, food and beverages. The celebration served as a reunion, with alumni from the ENF’s inaugural class in attendance.
“You can look around and see that people love this place, and they’ve dedicated their lives to helping the most special people in the world,” Capistrano Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Brad Shearer noted, adding, “Hearts are big here.”
Starting in the 2023-24 school year, the former ENF campus will become a new early childhood development center for pre-kindergarten and transitional-kindergarten schools.
Shearer said the merger offers an opportunity for the school to “provide more focused support for early childhood special needs kids.”
RH Dana ENF Principal Jonathan Ellis said the event was a good way to celebrate the school’s legacy and the end of another school year.
“I’m really pleased with how the event turned out,” Ellis said. “It’s just so nice to see everybody because this really is like our family and when we have more alumni and students with unique needs, we welcome them in like everybody else.”
Echoing Ellis’ sentiment, ENF Paraeducator Karen Keyte said, “we’ve just become a real family here and that’s the thing that I’m saddest about.”
Growing up, Keyte’s mom volunteered at Las Palmas Elementary School before ENF was built in 1975. Her father was on the committee that helped to design the school, Keyte said.
“So, it’s in our blood,” Keyte said.
Keyte started volunteering at ENF at 18. After leaving to start a career in nursing, she realized she was meant to stay at ENF and has not left since.
“It’s just always been a special part of my life,” Keyte said. “One of my sisters works here, my daughter works here, my mom worked here, my dad worked here.”
When the two campuses merging next year, Keyte plans to continue working as a paraeducator, she said.
During the event, Keyte, was recognized with the Continuing Honorary Service Award for her “outstanding service to children and youth.”
RH Dana ENF President Lori Brown, PTA Secretary Carol Smith, former PTA President Beth Davis and Community Advisory Committee representative Rachel Sutherland were also recognized for their commitment and service to the school and its students.
Providing opening remarks at the celebration, Ellis commented that ENF thrived thanks to the parents, families and staff who created a caring community at the school.
Ellis noted that ENF staff have worked hard to create a positive first impression with families so they know their children will be in good hands.
“We will continue to do that,” Ellis said. “That’s not going to change. We have the right people in place. We have the people that are motivated, that love kids, have shared the history in the same way and are going to continue to be here.”