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Rama Road’s ‘Triplets’ call it quits, with a message of love

The “Triplets” think they know how the last day of school will go on Tuesday.

They’ll bring plenty of tissues, and they’ll walk to each of the classrooms and say goodbye, and they’ll shed plenty of tears, they say.

And when it’s all over, three educators with a combined 89 1/2 years’ experience will leave Rama Road Elementary, the only school where they’ve ever worked and a place they’ve come to know as home.

“It will be a difficult day,” says Cathy Hartley, one of the three Rama Road teacher assistants known as the Triplets. “We know we’ll be saying goodbye to a lot of students we’ll never see again.”

Tuesday is the final day of the 2013-14 academic year for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and most in North Carolina, although a few systems, like in Union County, will finish Wednesday. The last day of school typically is full of farewells, and there is always a group of educators calling it quits.

But rarely do the farewells include such an experienced group as at Rama Road Elementary. Add in teachers Sheila Johnson and Vera Hern, and the five retirees total more than 140 years as educators.

“That’s really an amazing total, and they’ve been such a great resource,” says Principal Patricia Denny.

The Triplets actually are a pair of twins – Cathy and Donna Hartley – and good friend Cathy Fiola. Donna Hartley has been at Rama Road Elementary for 31 1/2 years. Cathy started a half-year later. Fiola has 27 years’ experience.

The Triplets have taught sons and daughters of students they had a generation ago. They laugh as they recall some of the strange things they’ve experienced in the past three decades. But they still get surprised – every day, they say.

“Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you see something new,” Donna Hartley says.

They say they probably would stay another year or two, but Rama Road Elementary will lose several staff positions for the 2014-15 academic year.

“We don’t want other people to lose their jobs because we’re here,” Fiola says. “We’ll collect our pensions.”

But it hasn’t been easy.

“The kids ask, ‘If you love Rama Road, why are you leaving?’ ” Fiola says. “How can you answer that?”

The school’s demographics have changed dramatically over 30 years. Once a largely white school, Rama Road Elementary is now a cultural melting pot. But the students haven’t changed, the Triplets say.

“They still want to learn,” Donna Hartley says.

“And they still need love,” Cathy Hartley adds.

The three have some advice for the people who will replace them.

“Don’t prejudge the kids based on what you’ve heard,” Fiola says. “Give every kid a chance.”

“Have patience,” Donna Hartley says.

“And love them,” her sister adds.

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