As Thursday marked the end of the school year for Lee County students, schools in Cape Coral and North Fort Myers called it an exceptional year, but with some unfortunate losses along the way.
Nearly 250 eighth-graders graduated from Gulf Middle School School this year.
"This is a very close group, and we had their promotion on Tuesday so we were able to celebrate them," Assistant Principal Julee Duttko said.
She reported that the students were louder than normal, but excited Thursday.
"We set the tone that is was a regular day of school," Duttko said.
Today is the last day of the 2012-13 school year for Lee County teachers.
"It was a transition year for us," Duttko said.
Gulf Middle's principal retired in November for medical reasons. The following month, Dr. Connie Jones was appointed to the position. Jones currently will continue to serve as principal next year.
"The kids have dealt with transition and a new principal, and they held strong," she said.
"A really great group of kids this year," Duttko added.
There were also students at the school - two families - diagnosed with cancer.
"The kids rallied. To see these kids come together was outstanding," she said.
"We got hit hard," Duttko added. "The school just rallied together."
On a positive note, Gulf Middle held its third annual Polly's 5K Run for Life. Named after a former school administrator who died from cancer, the fund-raiser benefits the American Cancer Society.
"That turned out wonderfully," she said.
Next year, the school will serve as a STEAM - Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Music - institution. Duttko explained that the program exposes students to more classes, like botany.
"It just offers more exploratories for the students," she said, noting that Gulf Elementary School is a STEAM school already, so the change makes it a "prefect transition for the elementary kids."
"We're looking forward to the next school year," Duttko said.
North Fort Myers High School also suffered some losses this school year.
Principal Dr. Jeff Spiro explained that two teachers passed away unexpectedly.
However, the school also had many good moments throughout the year.
"There have been a lot overall," he said.
The North Fort Myers High performing arts program won best show in Lee County for its straight fourth year, and one teacher was recognized as a finalist for the countywide Golden Apple award.
"We also got a brand new weight room this year that we are going to be using," Spiro said. "We're looking to redo our physical education classes next year to do more of a crossfit training."
He called it an "innovative" program.
"Musically, we're strong. Academically, we're strong. Outside on the field of play, we're working on improvements," Spiro said.
An estimated 370 seniors graduated from North Fort Myers High this year.
"Being a high performing high school, the atmosphere here was the same as every single week," he said of the last week of school, adding that many of the students were busy taking exams.
"Our kids truly were focused on making sure they take care of their academic requirements, though they were happy at the end of the day," Spiro said.
This year, Challenger Middle School had about 350 graduating eighth-graders.
The students celebrated with an early release, followed by eighth-grade awards and a dance.
"It's a great way for students to say goodbye to their friends and teachers," Assistant Principal Alex Dworzanski said Thursday. "For us, it's bittersweet - it always is on the last day."
He noted that students were "very very excited" for summer.
"As much as the teachers are," Dworzanski said, adding that many of the school's educators, however, continue to teach over the summer. "Usually they're working summers for a lot of our teachers."
He called the 2012-13 year a "fantastic year" for Challenger Middle.
"Our staff, parents and students have done another amazing job ensuring the Challenger is one of the top middle schools in Cape Coral, as well as Lee County," Dworzanski said.
The school started a program called One Book One School. He explained that everyone at the school reads one book, then discussions on the book are worked into the school curriculum and activities.
"It's just one of the many things that we did this year," Dworzanski said.
Challenger Middle also hosted a hunger benefit to highlight the issue of poverty.
"We're hoping to be another five-star school - retain our A status," he said.
This was Dworzanski's first year working at a middle school after having served at the elementary school level for two decades - the last nine years employed at Lehigh Elementary School.
"It was such a rewarding experience working with the students at this age level," he said.
"I couldn't have picked a better place to start my middle school experience," Dworzanski added.
Gulf Middle School is at 1809 S.W. 36th Terrace.
North Fort Myers High School is at 5000 Orange Grove Blvd. in North Fort Myers.
Challenger Middle School is at 624 Trafalgar Parkway.