While other local schools prepare to simply say goodbye for the summer, knowing they will return to familiar faces in the fall, Washington Elementary School students walked out the doors of their school Monday with the undeniable realization their educational experience would never be the same.

When the final bell sounded, students exited the building for the last time, embracing one another with goodbye hugs and words of farewell.

Originally, Washington’s last day was set to be a half day today, but plans changed last week.

Monday was filled with closing activities, including an awards ceremony and a hat signing in which students wrote messages and signed names for one another on the final day.

“They were kind of like safari hats,” said Washington principal Allen Park. “They were white, and staff and students signed each other’s.”

Students were also able to take home books and classroom keepsakes to honor the memory of their school.

“The kids were very appreciative,” Park said. “They were happy to take home items that meant so much to them.”

As for the staff, Park said everyone has been busy trying to wrap everything up. He thought it hadn’t really sunk in yet.

“They have just been going all day, constantly,” he said. “(Today), they will be able to reflect more when they realize the kids aren’t in the building.”

During the last several weeks, former students of all ages who were unable to attend the farewell open house made visits to the school.

“They just wanted to walk through one more time,” Park said.

A week ago, students ventured out to their new schools and were introduced to new principals, staff and students.

“We wanted to make sure the kids understood,” Park said. “We talked to them about new beginnings and new friends.”

Much of Washington’s staff will be transferring schools as well.

“It helps the kids knowing there will be a few familiar faces,” the principal said.

For Park, who has been rooted in Washington for more than 25 years, saying goodbye to it all has been a challenge.

“It’s been interesting the last few months,” he said. “Everything has been our last. It’s a different feeling knowing it’s the last time all of our events would happen at Washington.”

Though facing the difficult challenge of letting go, the principal said he is lucky to have taken part in it all.

“I am happy to have had the opportunity to work in Hays with USD 489,” he said. “We have tremendous staff, students and families here, and I feel very blessed.”