The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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January 9, 2014

SLIDE SHOW: Excitement, nerves mark opening of three new schools in Joplin

JOPLIN, Mo. — After two and a half years of planning and construction and three snow days that delayed their official opening, Joplin’s three newest schools — Irving and Soaring Heights elementary schools and East Middle School — opened their doors to students Thursday.

There seemed to be a lot of enthusiasm and anxiety, and a lot of figuring out where to go and what to do, but administrators said the morning went off without a hitch.

Soaring Heights faculty and staff members said an open house for families Wednesday night served to calm a lot of stress about navigating the new building Thursday morning. Yet there were some who were still feeling nervous about finally setting foot inside the school.

For Kobie McGuirk, it was like the first day of school all over again for her daughter, kindergartner Emily, who needed some reassurance about going to a new building for the second time this academic year.

“It’s overwhelming, especially for the little bitty ones, I think,” McGuirk said. “It’s like sending her off to kindergarten a second time around.”

About 15 minutes before the school day started, Sasha Morgan stood at the entrance to the cafeteria, silently keeping her eye on her two children, kindergartners Savannah and Lekota, as they went through the breakfast line.

“I just want to make sure that they’re comfortable, so I’m just kind of watching them to see how they do,” she said.

Morgan said her children were more ready than she was for classes to resume after the winter break.

“The snow days didn’t bother me,” she said. “But they’ve been ready for school since the third snow day. They love coming to school.”

Shiree Dodson, who was dropping off her second-grader, Samara, said her daughter was more than ready to attend classes in the new building.

“(On Wednesday) when we visited the school, she said she wished she could go to sleep right there so she’d be ready for school the next day,” Dodson said.

By Thursday morning, some of Samara’s excitement seemed to have worn off as she sat at a table in the cafeteria, scoping out the activity around her.

“I’m kind of nervous because I might get lost,” she said.

By 8 a.m., the commons area of East Middle School was full of students who were roaming the gymnasium and picking up their new schedules in anticipation of the start of the school day.

Principal Bud Sexson said there were no major glitches during the morning, although some parents didn’t know which doors were designated for student drop-off, and which were for bus loading and unloading.

“The big thing was that the kids got here, and it looks like they have,” he said. “There’s a buzz; they’re terribly excited.”

Eighth-grader Ginger Gormely was stationed at one of the entrances with her teammates on the cheerleading squad, waving their pompoms and welcoming their classmates to the new school.

“I’m very excited,” she said. “It’s going to be really different, and I think it will be good.”

Rikki Smith, president of the East PTO, said she and several other parents and PTO members would spend the day in the school, helping staff and faculty members wherever they were needed. She said her daughter, eighth-grader Emma Willerton, had been counting down the days until she could attend her classes in the school.

“She was ready on Monday,” Smith said, referring to the first of the three snow days that postponed the opening of the school. “She would have come back to school on time. She wants to be at school, and she was excited about the new building.”

By 10 a.m., the school day was well under way across town at Irving Elementary School. Principal Nila Vance said one first-grader had told her she was “nervexcited,” a combination of nervous and excited, but overall students and staff members were making the transition into their new digs nicely.

“We were really shocked at how smoothly it went,” she said.

Teachers reported that their students were eager to be in their new school. They said they were treating the day like a typical first day of school, with a review of rules and procedures.

“We did a tour, we talked about areas they could be in and showed them all the important things,” third-grade teacher Sarah Nangle said of how she had so far spent the morning with her class. “I think it’s going to take some adjustment.”

Superintendent C.J. Huff said there are still some odds and ends, mostly related to technology and mechanics, to finish at all three schools. But teachers were happy to get out of their temporary buildings and trailers, while students were pleased to have a school that they can call their own, he said.

“One of the teachers at Soaring Heights asked a second-grade boy a question,” Huff said. “She said, basically, ‘Does it feel like school?’ And the little boy said, ‘No, it feels like happiness.’ It doesn’t get any better than that.”


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