SOUTHINGTON — A group of sixth-graders followed closely behind teacher Alice Holloway during a tour of DePaolo Middle School on the first day of school Thursday.
Students climbed a flight of new stairs to the second floor. As students learned about their new school, they also heard about ongoing construction. Parts of the school are complete, while other areas are still being renovated. Some hallways were closed off with a sign that read “Construction area only, no entry.”
“Do you remember where the bathroom was downstairs?” asked Holloway, a sixth-grade math teacher. “That’s where you need to go for now until they’re done with construction.”
DePaolo and Kennedy middle schools are undergoing $89.7 million in renovations. The work is scheduled to be finished in late 2015.
“Everything that’s done is very pretty,” said Micaela Potamis, a sixth-grade student in Holloway’s class.
“It’s nice,” added classmate Patrick Perlot.
In room D206, Holloway showed students how to open their lockers and took them into the hall to practice.
After 11 years at DePaolo, Holloway was teaching for the first time in a brand new room.
“It has been crazy with the renovations,” Holloway said. “There has been one driving force and that’s the kids.”
Anne Lippincott, a paraprofessional working with Holloway, was also excited.
“I was here before construction last year and it looked like this,” Lippincott said, pointing to some exposed ceilings in the hallway. “It’s like night and day compared to last year.”
Downstairs in the cafeteria, seventh-grade students were listening to a presentation. The auditorium wasn’t available because it is under construction.
Meanwhile at Flanders School, kindergarteners were learning the basics on their first day of school. This is the second year the town is offering full-day kindergarten.
Before students in Rachel Carvalho’s kindergarten class had snack time, one of her students David Taylor was having trouble with his shoe.
“I’m an expert,” Carvalho said as she helped David with his shoe. “Let’s undo it first.”
After the shoe was fixed, David snacked on his grapes.
“We have more time with the kids to reach the end-of-the-year goals,” said Carvalho who was teaching kindergarten for the second year. “It’s such a nice thing to have time and not rush through the day.”
The half-day program offered to kindergartners in previous years was two hours and 40 minutes. The full-day program runs for six hours.
As students enjoyed snack time, Elektra Lee Velazquez, dressed in a hot-pink tutu and Hello Kitty T-Shirt, passed out “Finding Nemo” fruit snacks to her classmates. The snacks had a note that said “from Elektra.” Her mother, Lucina Rivera, helped her put them together.
“I miss her,” Rivera said of Elektra’s transition into the full-day program. “But I love to do little crafts for every holiday.”
Throughout the day students were learning how to follow directions, to walk in a straight line, where they would eat lunch every day, how to ask to use the bathroom, and basic classroom rules.
To kick-start learning about school, Carvalho read “David Goes to School” by David Shannon.
“Sit down David,” she read.
“Now your turn,” Carvalho said to the class.
“Sit down David,” the class answered. Halfway through the story Carvalho asked the class to make silly faces.
Jaden Pagano pulled on both of his cheeks and stuck his tongue out.
“Everyone look at Jaden’s silly face!” Carvalho said.
After story time, about 10:45 a.m., the children walked in a line to the cafeteria to go over where they would sit for lunch.
In the second year the district decided to be more flexible with the students in the first few weeks so they could adjust to the longer days.
“They’re adjusting quickly, I expect fatigue mid-afternoon,” said Flanders Principal Patricia Mazzarella. “After lunch some might ask if it’s time to go home yet,” she added laughing, “but after one to two weeks they are completely acclimated.”