Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Andi Bourne

Celebrating a year of success and milestones despite the challenges


Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Sunset School students prepare to present roses to their parents and guardians. Pictured (L-R): Jase Root, Aiden Eichenlaub, Lucas Nygard and Jadesa Stevens.

GREENOUGH – The Sunset School families and friends gathered May 25 for a year-end celebration and to recognize their eighth-grade graduates Aiden Eichenlaub and Jase Root and kindergartner promotions for Hudson Skelton and Lily Kihara. This is the first time since 2014 that Sunset has graduated an eighth grader.

Supervising teacher Toni Hatten said despite the global pandemic, Sunset's goal was to offer in-person learning and they achieved that all year. Although things were different, school was a success for the two-room schoolhouse with 10 students. They demonstrated growth, perseverance and character.

"That is a special thanks to our parents, our staff and our students who made that possible by being vigilant about their health care, wearing our masks, hand sanitizing and all this craziness," Hatten said. "It must be said that these students were amazing through it all. I love these kids and we are very proud of them."

It was Teacher Lilah Fox's first year teaching. She worked with the two kindergartners and one, fourth grader.

"I couldn't have asked for a better group of students, more forgiving or more eager group of students to work with," Fox said.

Along with completion certificates for the kindergarteners, each students' accomplishments were recognized with two awards.

• Kindergartner Lily Kihara: "The Energizer Bunny Award" because she keeps going and going and going. The "Sight Word Wizard" for her ability to memorize sight words.

• Kindergartner Hudson Skelton: "Best Listener" because he got it done every time regardless of what is being asked. "Most Improved" for his advancement in learning letters and reading.

• Fourth grader Sydney Nygard: "Incredible Artist" award for excellence in writing and drawing. "Greatest Role Model" for her leadership as the oldest in the class.

Part time teacher Andrea Tougas gave a parting address to the graduates.

"If I have learned anything from you two, it will be that you find laughter in struggle. You know what struggle looks like and you know what overcoming struggle looks like," Tougas said. "You have so many academic achievements but that is only part of what you have accomplished."

Tougas said they have grown socially and emotionally and built a community at Sunset as they became good humans and loyal friends.

"My hope of all hopes for both of you [in high school] is that you take yourselves seriously, that you envision greatness for yourself and that you seize every opportunity for yourself to achieve it," Tougas said. "This community believes in you, we are so very proud of you and we want to say congratulations to you."

In his graduation speech, Eichenlaub thanked his classmates for being there with him and his teachers for teaching him "through chaos" this year. He presented individual gifts to each of his classmates as mementos and encouragement based on his relationships with them.

Root dubbed himself the world's best procrastinator in his speech. He thanked the staff for putting up with him for two years. He gifted his classmates with several things that would remind him of them. He gave Hatten a box of pencils "to replace the millions you have given me over the years." She in exchange gave him a box of neon pencils in hopes that he could keep track of them in high school.

The staff also chose awards for the fifth through eighth graders that Hatten presented.

• Sixth grader Sera Benton: "Book Worm Award" because of her love of reading. "Future Teacher Award" because she loved to help and teach others.

• Sixth grader Sam Welch: "Heart of Gold Award" because he cares about everyone and always has good intentions. "Passionate Participant" because regardless the project, he was always excited and ready to tackle it.

• Seventh grader Cerenity Hjorth: "Amazing Athlete" because she always participated in physical activities and strove to do her best. "Best Behavior Award" because she was on task and ready to do whatever was next.

• Seventh grader Jadesa Stevens: "Best Friend Award" because she was a friend to everyone. "Math Accelerator" because she is a math wizard making impressive progress and blowing away expectations.

• Seventh grader Lucas Nygard: "The Neatest Writer" for his beautiful cursive writing. "Happy Helper Award" because he is always there to help regardless of the task or the person requiring assistance.

• Eighth grader Aiden Eichenlaub: "Kind and Caring Classmate" because of his compassion for others. "Creative Genius" he is forever creating things, whether assigned or not, and thinks outside of the box.

• Eighth grader Jase Root: "Class comedian" learning when humor is appropriate and making Hatten laugh. "Future President Award" because he will do great things.

Hatten thanked the parents and grandparents for going the extra miles, literally, to get the kids to school coming from Seeley Lake and Potomac.

"We couldn't ask for better parents and families, we truly think the world of you and just know that without your support, our job would be ten times more difficult, especially this year," Hatten said.

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

The fourth – eighth graders performing "Just the Two of Us" by Bill Withers and Grover Washington Jr. They chose this song because there were two graduates and it had a friendship theme.

Hatten gave a special thank you to board member and parent Eric Skelton for all his work during the school year and Missoula County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Erin Lipkind for her support. She also highlighted Paraprofessional Tessa Stevens for being the "drill sergeant" and helping keep everyone in line as well as offering tremendous support throughout the challenging year.

"Thanks to all those who loved and helped. Thanks to those selfless enough to give all their energy into just protecting us," said Benton in the closing speech. "Thanks to those who always care and appreciate all that we do. Thanks to those who drive countless miles just to get us to school and give countless hours into packing lunches that aren't even for themselves. Thanks to those who work all day to pay for the necessary things we need. I think it goes without saying that all the teachers deserve a thanks. They put up with us for seven hours a day for five days a week."


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