Working around building project, North Stonington schools kick off classes early
North Stonington — School is officially back in session, and a bit early at that for at least one school in the region.
On Wednesday students in North Stonington headed back to class, the first in the area to do so for the 2018-19 school year.
Classes began earlier than usual this year because the district needed to adjust its schedule to account for the town's ongoing school building project, on which construction was delayed due to a forced revote as well as a resolution requiring the money for the project to be in the 2017-18 state budget, which was not passed until after June.
Earlier this year construction began on the contentious $38.5 million project, which will, among other things, renovate the elementary school, demolish the existing middle school and build a new combined middle and high school wing attached to the gymatorium.
The timeline involves transferring kids into different buildings as different parts of the project are finished. So, following an extended spring break in March, the plan is for the elementary school students to move into the current middle/high school as the middle/high school students move into the newly constructed middle/high school building.
Despite certain pains caused by the ongoing work, Superintendent Peter Nero said faculty are very excited to start the year and see all the students' smiling faces. He also added that when it comes to certain inconveniences of the project, the school district already knew it'd need to be flexible and that, in the long run, the project would be worth it.
"We always keep an eye on the prize," Nero said. "In two years we'll have a state-of-the-art school ... and have completely eradicated the environmental issues."
Last year the first day of school was delayed due to the detection of PCBs — a harmful environmental contaminant — in several elementary school classrooms.
Aside from the extended spring break, the school district also has had to move music classes to a different room and host physical education classes exclusively outside or in the middle school cafeteria during colder months because the gymatorium has been closed.
However, Nero said overall the ongoing construction isn't expected to have much of an impact on the day-to-day operations or curriculum of the schools. Still, he did note that there are a few other challenges.
Most notably, Nero pointed to tight traffic in the elementary school parking lot, where lanes have been reduced — an issue that was very noticeable as students were released from classes at the end of the first day.
The bones of the new building aren't the only new thing around North Stonington schools, though — the new year also brought with it new teachers.
Filling the spot left by Wheeler choral director Carolyn Bennett, who is taking a one-year leave from the high school to serve full-time at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., is Allison Savage, 25.
Savage, who is originally from Southbury, earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Connecticut and spent last year teaching at a school in Darien. This year, however, she will be teaching choral and music classes at Wheeler High School.
"I'm just really excited to get to know the kids," Savage said. "That's my favorite part of the job, getting to know all their different personalities, what they like ... just to build those relationships with them."
Another new face around North Stonington schools is Carly Buehler, 28, who also earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from UConn.
Buehler, a North Stonington native, previously taught at a school in Hebron, as well as a school for orphans in Zambia. She will be teaching third grade at the elementary school and is excited to be part of a school district that she knows firsthand is so important to the community.
She added that for her, this year will be a success if her students are able to grow and build a sense of classroom community.
"Building our classroom community ... making sure that my students know they can lean on one another and that they can make mistakes, and it's a safe and comfortable place for them to do that," Buehler said. "Also, third grade in general is a huge growing year ... it's always special to see them come in pretty young but grow, and, by the end of the year, it is amazing where they're at."
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