Do third-grade treasures stand the test of time?
DANVILLE — For the last nine years, Sherene Hall has eagerly awaited the end of her senior year — and not just for the obvious reasons.
That's when the Danville High School student and several classmates were allowed to open a time capsule they had buried as third-graders at East Park Elementary School.
"I can't remember what I put in," Hall said when she and other members of her third-grade class gathered near the East Park courtyard, where the capsule was buried.
The project started in 2003. That was the first year Deb Kelly began teaching third-graders in the Motivating Academically Talented Students program for gifted students.
Kelly recalls the class of 11 students had been studying historic buildings. She found a newspaper article about some people who discovered a time capsule at a historic building site and shared it with them.
"They thought it would be so cool to have their own," Kelly said.
Adams Memorial donated a vault, measuring about 8 inches by 15 inches and 10 inches deep. It even threw in a small marker, inscribed "Mrs. D. Kelly's Class of 2003," to indicate the burial site.
Kelly gave each student a gallon-sized plastic zipper bag. The kids stuffed them with an essay they had written about themselves and mementos that were symbolic of or special to them at the time.
Kelly, who is a seamstress, threw in a spool of thread and a picture of her class.
Eventually, the students moved on to other schools, and a couple even moved away from Danville. But they didn't forget about the capsule.
"They have been bugging me about it all of these years," Kelly said, recalling how the kids would ask her about it whenever they ran into her in town. "They made me swear I wouldn't touch it."
On Thursday afternoon, a little more than a week before graduation, five students returned to East Park to open the capsule. The group included Jackson Hayes, the only boy in the class, who moved in the sixth grade and recently graduated from Ridgeview High School in Colfax.
Outside in the courtyard, students had a little trouble opening the box, which had been sealed with caulk and double-wrapped with garbage bags. East Park Principal Chris Rice finally pried it open with a shovel.
Unfortunately, the project didn't end as Kelly and her students anticipated.
Despite the precautions to protect the contents, water had seeped into the vault and plastic bags and destroyed most of the contents.
"Ewww!" Hajira Ahmed said, holding up her bag filled with brownish water. "I'm not going to be able to read my note to myself."
Carly Whitaker could read a portion of hers. "Hi, I'm Carly. I like sports, division and outdoors," she read. "This is so not me anymore. I'm not good at math."
Some students were able to salvage a few items. Jordan Ogle found an earring case shaped like a purple teddy bear. Inside were several tarnished coins.
Hall found her old white Tae Kwon Do belt. "I had just moved up to a yellow-striped belt," she recalled.
Dallas Robinson found a bookmark, "which is really fitting," she said. "I was a bookworm in third grade, and I'm a bookworm now."
While students were disappointed that most of the capsule's contents were ruined, they said they were grateful for the experience. They also enjoyed coming back to East Park to reminisce and talk about how they have changed.
"Do you guys remember when we did the volcano out here," Robinson asked. Everyone did.
For Kelly, the event was a reunion of sorts, one last time to see the kids before they graduate. Soon the girls will go to college to study in various scientific fields. Hayes will be taking a two-year mission trip for his church before heading to college to study computer engineering.
"It's like having my daughters and my son come back and visit me," Kelly said, adding that she and MATS students and parents become like family. "It's so nice to see how they've grown into such wonderful adults."