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TEAM School Rings Out the News When Seniors Achieve Graduation Status

                Every time a bell is rung at Cleburne TEAM School, a senior becomes a graduate.

                A new tradition was established at Cleburne ISD’s alternative high school this year, with the donation of a 25-pound brass bell by retired teacher Wayne Findley. The bell was presented in memory of Findley’s late wife, Krista, who was an assistant principal at Cleburne High School. She was killed in a car accident in March of 2008.

                “Krista loved kids, and was one of the sweetest, caring people I have ever known,” said Suzie Keesee, director of Alternative Education and principal of TEAM School. “When I was principal of the Phoenix campus, Wayne was our math teacher.  Just like Krista, he valued building relationships with kids.”

                Keesee said the brass bell is a “beautiful” replacement to the iron triangle she implemented in her first year at TEAM to celebrate the final, and most important, step in her students’ high school journey.

                “Ringing the triangle was the last thing our seniors did as a completer, as they waited for graduation ceremonies at the end of the school year,” Keesee said. “Wayne had seen our Facebook postings and came to me last summer offering the gift of a bell.”

“When it was delivered, we had it mounted in the main hallway—to be seen from every classroom,” Keesee said. “We announce when the bell is about to be rung, then the new graduate steps up and rings the bell—which is followed by a shower of confetti and lots of cheering. We also keep track of the order in which they graduate—we are now beyond 70.”

Star Thomas is among the celebrated bell ringers and will be receiving her diploma at Sunday’s commencement ceremonies honoring both Cleburne High School and TEAM School graduates.

“Ringing the bell was special—I felt accomplished,” Thomas said. “It let me know I was done, ready to move on, take that next step and face whatever comes next. It provides an air of excitement whenever you hear the bell is about to ring—everyone is excited for that person.”

                “This final year of high school had its tough moments, but TEAM School made it easier for me as I went along,” Thomas said. “My plan is to find a good paying job and enroll in online community college classes. I would like to work with expectant mothers as a sonogram technician.”

                Dylan Byers rang the bell, signaling his completion of graduation requirements—on his birthday.

                “I didn’t time it that way,” Byers said. “I had enrolled in TEAM School on my birthday a year ago. I had a couple of friends talk about TEAM—how you could work at your own pace and move at a faster pace through your credits if you worked hard—and decided to apply for acceptance. I have liked the smaller learning environment—it made it a lot easier for me to focus on my classes.”

                “I wasn’t sold on ringing the bell at first,” he said. “Then I began to see it was a ceremonial thing, and important. It gives you a sense of motivation as you see other students ringing the bell—knowing what it means. I kept saying to myself ‘it’s going to be me next.’”

                 Byers has chosen to receive his diploma during ceremonies honoring members of his 2023 graduating class of “TEAM-mates” taking place May 23 at 6 p.m. at St. Mark United Methodist Church. He is leaning toward enlisting in the U.S. Marines, knowing the educational opportunities that will come with that.

                 “I think the addition of the bell has served as an inspiration for all our students, not just our seniors,” Keesee said. “The pealing of that bell sounds a rite of passage. It defines all the hard work and finalizes the struggles and obstacles that these graduates have overcome. It signifies ‘you did it.’”  

                “The bell also keeps the memory of Krista Findley alive, especially for those who knew her,” Keesee said. “We have told our students the story behind the bell—in remembering a wonderful educator who had a special heart for kids. This gift, to TEAM School in her name, makes her still a part of kids’ lives.”