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New London - Kayla Mateo's favorite subject is math, but the fifth-grader at Nathan Hale Magnet Elementary School for Performing and Visual Arts rarely uses a pencil and paper to solve equations.
"We use the computers to do math, sometimes we do word problems and sometimes we do regular math problems," she said Thursday as she gave a tour following an official dedication ceremony for the school, which boasts a student to computer or iPad ratio of nearly 1 to 1.
When the newly renovated Nathan Hale opened in August, it became the second elementary magnet school in the city. It serves about 550 kindergarten through sixth-grade students, including roughly 20 out-of-district children.
"The children of New London and the parents of New London deserve this school," Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer said at the dedication ceremony. "The people of New London deserve this school because the children are the future of this city, and the more attention we pay, not just to the quality of the facility but to the quality of the adults and the teaching and the care we give to children, the more we have to say about how important our city is."
The school is loaded with technology, including projectors in each classroom that transform the white board into an interactive "smart board" capable of displaying images from the teacher's computer or camera. Teachers, like kindergarten teacher Jean Jordan, can use that technology to further engage students in the day's lesson.
"It's nice because when I'm reading them a book, they can see the pictures (on the board) but they can also read along with me," said Jordan, who has taught in New London for nearly 30 years.
Keeping with the school's focus on visual and performing arts, the building has a dance studio with a spring-loaded floor, two music rooms, an electronic keyboarding classroom, two art classrooms and two computer labs. As the year goes on, more arts education will be integrated into the curriculum.
"We want each child to have a special dance, music or art experience by the end of the years," Principal Donna Slate said.
The reconstruction of Nathan Hale, which cost $30.4 million and expanded the building from 47,800 square feet to 68,750 square feet, was part of the $59 million New London's 21st Century School Facilities Plan, which was approved by the Board of Education in 2008. That plan also included a $28.7 million reconstruction of Winthrop Magnet Elementary School, which opened last year. The state is expected to reimburse 95 percent of the costs.
During the two-year construction period, Slate and the students spent a year in portable classrooms off Cedar Grove Avenue and then a year at Harbor School on Montauk Avenue, which is now closed.
"New London is a community that has always embraced the arts," Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said. "And today, to be dedicating an arts magnet elementary school, is a true testament to our community's long-standing support for the arts and those engaged in the arts."
And soon, students in the New London district will have the opportunity to attend an arts magnet school from kindergarten through 12th grade.
"From here we will be getting a performing and visual arts high school eventually, so we are starting here," Board of Education Chairwoman Margaret Mary Curtin said, referencing the city's ongoing transition to being an all-magnet school district. "I see very good things happening in the next few years."