By Michelle Colesanti

At Alafia Elementary School, alumni students, past Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and teachers recently gathered to celebrate Alafia’s 25-year anniversary.

There’s something special about returning to the place where your education and possibly your first connection to lifelong friends began. Maybe it was that special teacher that motivated you to pursue your dream career or helped you overcome obstacles.

When Alafia first opened in 1987, gas was $.89 a gallon, a U.S. postage stamp cost $.24 and pound puppies were all the rage. It’s not until we look back that we realize how much has changed in 25 years. Both cell phones and personal computers, especially Internet usage, did not become popular until the early to mid-1990s.

At a special assembly held to commemorate the 25th anniversary, current Alafia students and their parents put together a time capsule that will hold commemoratives of today’s society, so that students in the future can look back at what were facts of life in 2012.  A school spirit day where students dressed up in 80s fashion also took place. Former students, PTA volunteers and teachers no longer working at Alafia were all invited back for an afternoon event that was put together so that everyone could visit the campus and socialize to indulge in those special nostalgic moments. Suzy Wiesenhart was PTA President for three years during the mid-late 90s. “I can honestly say it was the most fun I’ve ever had and the hardest I’ve ever worked.  The PTA moms and dads I got to work with were amazing and so supportive,” noted Wiesenhart.

Although the times have changed drastically over the years, the one constant at Alafia has been the top notch education that the students have received. Alafia has always been an “A” rated school since the rating system was put into place.

Lisa Jackson, current principal of Alafia, taught at the school from 1992-2002. When asked about her 10 years as a teacher, she said, “They were a wonderful 10 years and when I was given the opportunity to come back to Alafia in 2009, as the school’s principal, it was the chance of a life time I could not pass up. We have students at our school whose parents I and other teachers here had taught, and that is pretty wild. We are family at Alafia and look forward to another 25 years of excellence.”

Jackson noted that there are teachers still teaching at the school who helped open Alafia 25 years ago. At that time, they began a very fine tradition of excellence in education that has not waned, but only grown since. Those teachers are Kathy Mulvihill, Beverly Ruhle and Carol Townsend. Townsend said, “It has been very special to remain at Alafia for 25 years. I have seen my students grow up to become wonderful adults. Many students come back to visit and that is a very rewarding experience for a teacher. I became a teacher to help children develop a love for learning. In reality, I have been blessed by their presence in my classroom each day.”

Taking over for a teacher who left on maternity leave during that first year, Kathy Mulvihill, who still teaches at Alafia, said, “This school and community have enriched my life so much.  I have seen wonderful children come and go and had the privilege to become friends with many of the parents.  At this point in my teaching career, I am occasionally teaching former student’s children and am thrilled to see what path these former students have taken in their lives.  Alafia is my family.  It is a warm feeling to walk across campus and see friends everywhere. The teachers at Alafia care deeply about each and every student and, in return, these students thrive in such a warm environment. There is a cohesion among the faculty and staff that enables best teaching practices. This ‘esprit de corps’ has made Alafia the best it can be and it has been my pleasure to be a part of my Alafia family the past 25 years.” Jackson also noted, “To this day, we have an excellent staff that takes great pride in being part of Alafia Elementary. We are supported by a wonderful community and have always enjoyed a wonderful partnership with our PTA and parents as a whole.”

Through the years, many special events took place at Alafia, but one of the most touching and unusual was the wedding proposal of Jon Clarkson, whose mother, Susan Clarkson, still teaches at Alafia and Kayla Hamm, who’s mother, Kathy Hamm, was both active on the PTA board and, at the time of the proposal, a Paraprofessional in Clarkson’s Kindergarten class.

According to Kathy, “The story began during Kayla’s Kindergarten year when Clarkson was Kayla’s teacher. I still remember ‘meet your teacher’ day as Kayla was first introduced to her future mother-in-law! Who knew?”

Jon chose the Alafia playground to propose because this was where they first met so many years ago when her mom worked with Clarkson. They fought their way through the school year as Jon and Kayla’s brother Matt loved to gang up on her. They re-connected after Kayla graduated from high school.

Jon and Kayla have been married three years and Kayla has since become a Kindergarten teacher too, and is now Mrs. Clarkson.

Alafia is located in Bloomingdale East at 3535 Culbreath Rd. in Valrico.  For more information, call 744-8190.


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Michelle has been with the Osprey Observer for almost nine years, and her current position is Assignment Editor. She resides in Bloomingdale with her husband Phil, two sons, Philip and Matthew, and Tigger the cat.