Hawthorne Elementary: Its Legacy Remains


Liliyana Colon, Staff Writer

Hawthorne Elementary School closes after 93 years of educating thousands of students on Elkhart’s south side. The question is Why?

The plans to close Hawthorne were revealed in January by the district; many meetings were held on the topic in February and March. On Apr. 12, 2022, the school board held a vote on the future of Hawthorne. Despite a vocal protest of staff, students, parents, and community members, the final vote was 5-2 in favor of closing and repurposing the K-6 building.

Superintendent Steve Thalheimer said it would cost upwards of $5 million for Hawthorne to be renovated as a K-6 school, but only $1 million to revitalize it as an expanded Pre-K program, saving the district around $232,000 a year. Last week, Mary Beck’s Pre-K program relocated and officially opened up in the newer part of the building, which was built in 2004. The “community hub” is still yet to open in the older half of the building.

While there are those who do support the decision, many within the community remain extremely upset with the outcome of the school board’s decision. “It’s ridiculous,” former teacher Jo-Ann Paulson states. “First, they said the building was in poor condition and they couldn’t afford to have it fixed. “Now it is almost at full capacity with our youngest and most vulnerable children (PACE and Title One preschool).” Wendy Weaver, a former 4th-grade teacher at Hawthorne, feels “The closure of Hawthorne is a huge devastation to the south side of Elkhart, and 1,000 plus students are feeling the rippling effects of it right now and will continue to.”

There are also those who believe the school was closed for alternative reasons, such as neglecting the school because of its location. “I believe they didn’t want to spend the money on a school on the south side of town.” So says former student Erin Miller. Despite the awareness of some community members, many Elkhart residents are still unaware of the closure months later. The majority of Hawthorne’s parents are Spanish-speaking and were not sufficiently informed of the possible closure and, thus, were unable to comment. This also caused many parents to be confused about what school their children were supposed to attend the following year.

So, was the school shut down due to a hidden agenda and ulterior motives? Did the discrimination towards the south side play a part in the closure? Whether the community will ever truly know the exact reasons the school had to close, Hawthorne will be mourned and the legacy will remain a part of Elkhart’s history as a unique community and family that cannot be replicated or replaced.

Hawthorne’s Lashawnda Gates, a teacher of 10 years, passionately states the school was “the best. There will never be anything like it. It was nothing but love. Hawthorne was the heartbeat of the south side and the glue that held the community together.”