Story and photos by James Preminger, CCSD Public Relations
A little boy showed up alone in the doorway of the new $20 million Judy Nelson Elementary School. He had tears in his eyes, was scared, and barely spoke. He was one of the last students to arrive. It was Jan. 3, 2017—the first day in the new school.
Judy Nelson—standing in the school’s doorway—had greeted students as they arrived. On the wall behind her was a bronze plaque with the name of the school—her name—on it. It was 8 a.m. and most of the school’s 595 students were now in their new classrooms.
Ms. Nelson was never a teacher, but she carries the same message of unconditional love, compassion, and caring for students. She began that message in 1967 when she was hired as secretary of Grace B. Wilson Elementary School in Kirtland—a position she kept for 50 school years before retiring in June 2016.
That message continued Jan. 3, 2017—when she greeted students on their first day of class in the new school that the community, staff, and students named after her.
“(I’m) kind of teary-eyed, but I love these kids. It’s wonderful being here, seeing them all the first day of the new school,” Ms. Nelson said shortly before the boy arrived. “I was humbled by all of this. It is such an honor. But the real honor is serving the kids all of these years and getting to know them. I’ll always love all of them.”
She asked the boy if he needed help, if he was hungry, if he knew where his classroom was. Her eyes never left him. Principal Steve Carlson then offered the boy breakfast (he declined) and walked him to his classroom.
One Navajo Blessing and Two Ribbon Cuttings
Judy Nelson Elementary is so big it took two ribbon cuttings to open it following a traditional Navajo Blessing Ceremony on the floor directly inside the main entrance.
The Kirtland Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting Jan. 2, 2017 when teachers and staff arrived back from Winter Break—just one day ahead of the students.
“Our goal is to promote the Lower Valley and Kirtland, Fruitland, and Water Flow. We were really excited to be able to help cut the ribbon for the new Judy Nelson Elementary School,” said Kara Wood, the outgoing president of the Kirtland Chamber of Commerce.
“We wanted to show our enthusiasm for what you have going on here,” Wood said.
Teachers, staff, and community members, as well as Central Consolidated School District administrators, including Interim Superintendent Dr. Colleen W. Bowman and School Board President Randy Manning lined up for the ribbon cutting.
“It’s an honor to be able to work at Judy Nelson and have my kids attend here,” said Melissa Foutz, the school’s health aide. Her three children, in kindergarten, cut the ribbon in the first-ribbon cutting. “They were excited. They’re triplets, so they do everything together.”
A few minutes later it was followed by a second-ribbon cutting with two great-great-grandchildren of Ruth N. Bond who attend the new Judy Nelson Elementary School, which sits on the footprint of Ruth N. Bond Elementary.
“It’ feels great—it’s an honor,” said Megan Stewart, a great-granddaughter of Ruth N. Bond whose two daughters were in the second-ribbon cutting.
Those just arriving for the 7:30 a.m. ribbon cuttings instead witnessed a Blessing Ceremony already in progress with Navajo Medicine Man Pete Carlston. Ashes from an outdoor grill were brought in on a metal plate and placed on the floor in the center of the lobby.
“The ashes and the smoke represent our grandfather, who is fire and warmth. Every Hogan has a fire—it represents life. You can cook on it, it’s warm, you don’t freeze. It’s just a welcoming representation of a home—(Judy Nelson Elementary School) is our new home,” said Veda Glover, the kindergarten through 4th grade Navajo bilingual teacher at Judy Nelson Elementary.
Participants in the ceremony, including Interim Superintendent Bowman, picked up grounded white corn in a Navajo basket and placed it on the four walls in the four directions. A boy and a girl in the ceremony represented the students at Judy Nelson Elementary.