Students at Salvador Elementary School will present a special play this week about the history of both their very old school and the Napa Valley as part of a grand celebration and farewell.
Established 150 years ago, Salvador will close down at the end of this school year and merge with El Centro Elementary School to form a brand new elementary known as Willow.
The sesquicentennial celebration for Salvador will include two events this month: the performance of “Our Town Nappa” on Thursday and Friday in the Vintage High School Little Theater, and a 150th Birthday Party on May 30 on the Salvador campus.
“This is going to be a huge tribute to our school,” said Principal Pam Perkins, who has both professional and personal reasons for wanting to honor the school’s long history.
Perkins, who has been principal since 2011, was raised in north Napa. Although she did not attend Salvador — she went to Northwood Elementary School — her father, John Holder, served as principal of Salvador for one year (1987) and was the first principal at El Centro (1965-1980).
She acknowledged that a person’s elementary school years are “a really formative time in our lives” that are “steeped in strong memories and strong emotions.”
“I grew up in this community,” Perkins said from her office located in Salvador’s historic main building that dates back to 1922. I want “to do right by my community members.”
The original Salvador school, built in 1868, was located off Big Ranch Road, according to teacher Lu Kenmonth. It burned down, was rebuilt, then it relocated to its current site off Salvador Avenue as part of a school consolidation in the 1920s.
“I want to be able to honor this school,” Perkins said, and “move forward and wrap some of those emotions into the next phase” when Salvador becomes part of Willow Elementary.
Her teaching staff played a big role in the development of “Our Town Nappa,” which has two P’s in deference to the town’s original spelling.
That fact was just one of the many historical “tidbits” that Kenmonth and two of her colleagues learned last summer at the Napa County Historical Society.
The three instructors combed through the archives to learn everything they could about their school’s history in order to produce the play.
They eventually chose to incorporate key figures from Napa Valley history.
“We decided to expand it because there really wasn’t enough to do a 45 minute show on just Salvador,” said Kenmonth.
“We plucked a few people from out of the archives and put it together,” she added. “We used ‘Our Town’ as a framework of how the story is told.”
Inspired by Thornton Wilder’s classic about small town life in Grover’s Corners, “Our Town Nappa” tells the tale of Salvador students who set off to build a time capsule for their school.
They visit Tulocay Cemetery where men and women from the past come to life to tell the stories of their lives in the Napa Valley.
Some of the historical figures include Salvador Vallejo, who owned large tracts of land in the early 1800s in what later became north Napa and Yountville. He was also the person for whom Salvador school was named.
The play will also feature some of the school’s early teachers, plus the first doctor in Napa County, the first farmer in Browns Valley, Sam Kee from the Chinese Laundry, winemaker Robert Mondavi, and many others.
Current Salvador students, grades 2-5, will perform all of the characters and the dance numbers interspersed throughout the production.
“It doesn’t do justice to everything in Napa Valley in the last 150 years, or we’d be there for four hours, and I wouldn’t have any hair left,” Kenmonth said, which prompted laughter from Perkins and other staff in the Salvador lunchroom last Thursday.
After telling their stories, the characters each contribute something to the time capsule being assembled by the students in the play.
A long lost time capsule will also play a role in the 150th Birthday Party scheduled for May 30 from 2-6 p.m. on the Salvador campus.
In addition to games, student performances, and food, the party will include an attempt to find a 25-year-old time capsule that was buried somewhere on school grounds.
“Everyone’s memories have faded a bit” as to its location, said Perkins. “We’ll open it that day if we can find it.”
The task of locating the time capsule is in the hands of Steve Lowery, who attended Salvador from 1979 to 1982, and now works for the Napa Valley Unified School District.
Lowery said he plans to bring a metal detector to the party to find the capsule.
“I don’t know what type of container it is in,” he said, “but I do remember someone throwing a coin in so maybe we can get a hit off of that.”
All Salvador alumni as well as community members are welcome to attend the party and the performances of “Our Town Nappa.”