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Renovations impress in city
Martinsville High School junior Nate McKenzie pets the school mascot, Lugnut the bulldog, who greeted students Monday on the first day of the new school year. (Photo by Kim Buck)
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
By KIM BUCK - Special to the Bulletin
Many Martinsville High School students were impressed to see how their school had been transformed when they arrived for the first day of the new school year on Monday morning.
“It looks so good — like a college campus,” said senior Dejah Williams. “They did a really good job in a short time.”
Senior Tylisha Wright agreed. “I think it looks amazing.”
Visiting Martinsville High School on Monday morning, Superintendent Pam Heath chatted with students about the improvements, such as a new “charging station” area in the commons where students can power up their mobile devices.
“The students were enthralled with the makeover of Martinsville High School,” Heath said. “I ran into some graduates from last year at the open house last week, and they were very jealous that they were not here to take advantage of it.”
The renovations to the high school were done in part to encourage collaboration and project-based learning, Heath said. Project-based and product-oriented learning is a major new focus for the school division this year, inspired by the high-achieving High Tech High in San Diego.
“The new spaces at the high school were designed with that in mind,” Heath said. “It was very gratifying to see how the school has transformed into a learning space that will enhance the skills that students need for success after high school.”
Heath visited all the city schools Monday. Overall, the first day was “very smooth” at every site, she said.
One minor issue was a “temporary slowdown in traffic at Martinsville Middle School, but that has already been addressed,” she said.
“We had a wonderful day,” said MHS Principal Angie Weinerth. “The kids were amazed at the renovations. They’re very excited to get started in school.”
Ninth-graders and sixth-graders eased into their year at a new school with a half-day orientation on Friday to learn the routines of the school and get to know their teachers and classmates.
“Ninth-grade teachers rock!” Weinerth said. “The teachers took it upon themselves to plan team-building activities and worked very hard to give students a good experience.”
Martinsville Middle School Principal Cynthia Tarpley also reported a smooth start. “The early start for the sixth grade really, truly helped.”
Tarpley noted that many teachers called her over the weekend or asked for keys to the building so they could come in and work after hours. “We have a great group of very dedicated staff,” she said.
Students and staff will have another way to get fit this year at Martinsville Middle School. An empty classroom was converted to a fitness center with treadmills, elliptical machines and a class set of exercise balls. Gym classes will use the equipment for circuit training, and the school staff will be able to use it before and after school.
The idea, Tarpley said, is to teach the students to use fitness machines so that they will continue to work out at a gym when they are older. The school is seeking grant funds to buy more equipment.
“The kids are excited; the teachers are excited,” she said.
Albert Harris Elementary also saw a smooth start, and Principal Felicia Preston predicted “a great year.”
“This is my second year starting the school year as principal, and it has been different,” Preston said, adding that the process has gotten easier. “I think all the kids and teachers are settling in well. We didn’t have many tears at all this morning in kindergarten.”
Classes started the day by going over classroom expectations and getting to know their fellow students. In first grade, Kathryn Rowe’s students were divided into small discussion groups for a getting-to-know-you game. Each child had a handful of M&Ms candies in different colors. For each color, the children were supposed to share a different fact about themselves — one color prompted students to share whether they have any brothers and sisters, while another asked them to name their favorite book or a topic they like to read about. After sharing, they got to eat the candy.
Across the hall, first-grade teacher Amanda Chaney poured her students cups of green “jitter juice” (fruit punch). They read a poem about how drinking the punch would calm their first-day-of-school jitters.
At Patrick Henry Elementary School, Principal Zeb Talley called Monday “the smoothest first day of school I’ve ever had. I hope every day runs like this.”
Students walked in Monday morning “acting like they’ve been here all summer,” Talley said. “The teachers and parents have really coordinated well to prepare the students.”
“We’re hitting the ground from day one with project-based learning. The kids are going to be a lot more engaged.” He praised the “enthusiasm of our staff” for the new focus. “Our staff really goes above and beyond.”
Teachers used a variety of methods to help students get to know each other. First-graders drew self-portraits and wrote short sentences about themselves. In the fifth grade, classes headed outside for a team-building activity: Students raced to fill cups with water and then transported them back to their class’s bucket without using their fingers. To abide by the rule, students did everything from balance the cups on the palms of their hands to holding their between their shoulders and heads.
Martinsville’s littlest students had a mostly tear-free start of school at Clearview Early Childhood Center, which serves 3- and 4-year-olds and special education preschool students.
“If today is any indicator as to how the school year will go, then we are in store for an outstanding year,” said Clearview Director Sheilah Williams. “When our students arrived at the school, the smiling faces, the looks of excitement were very rewarding. The students were so excited and ready to start the day. We only had a few tears — more from parents than from the students.”
To comfort students on their first day, many teachers read “The Kissing Hand,” a book about a little raccoon who is scared to go to school. The raccoon’s mother kisses his hand and tells him that anytime he misses her during the school day he should put his hand on his face and feel the kiss.
Preschoolers have a staggered start and early dismissal this week to help them ease into the transition. In the afternoons, teachers and staff are conducting informal home visits to get to know their students’ families and discuss how they can work together to help the children succeed.