Cedar Key the epitome of small-school Florida

Published: Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 12:06 a.m.

CEDAR KEY -- Florida's smallest public school draws a crowd of family, friends and supporters each time a handful of students graduate.

With just 200 students enrolled in grades kindergarten through 12th, the number of graduates usually is in the double digits. The small numbers mean each student gets big recognition during commencement.

For example, there is enough time in a commencement ceremony for 11 to do more than simply announce each graduate's name. Officials had time at the most recent commencement to announce 20 scholarship recipients. There was also time for one of the graduates, Brandon Register, to rap about taking the right path and expressing gratitude.

The decades-old gymnasium where commencements are held is still free of air conditioning, but that doesn't seem to keep many people away. Instead, it appeared earlier this month that most of the town had gathered in the small, dark, humid gymnasium with shabby purple curtains hanging over the open windows at the top of the bleachers.

This is the same gymnasium most of the students have been using since they started school here as 5-year-olds.

Some of the faces in the audience -- those of the school's faculty and staff -- were as familiar to the students as the gymnasium was.

"A lot of teachers are here the whole time these students are in school," Principal Sue Ice said. "They may have had them as students in the second grade, but they can continue to check on them and see how they're doing. That's really special."

This year's guest speaker, Susie Helvenston, was the first-grade teacher for most of the graduates.

During her speech, Helvenston recalled how one was afraid to start school, that two of the girls have been inseparable since they started school, and the look on one student's face when the chains of his playground swing snapped in mid-air.

Cedar Key School's faculty and staff got a review from valedictorian Jenny Bierman. She thanked the teachers who came to her aid when she was being bullied, for being willing to spend time with students in class and out until they understood what they were being taught, and for not judging her for her piercings.

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