The students, faculty and staff at two Gainesville elementary schools begin classes Wednesday with an unusual challenge — sharing a campus.
While a new school building is under construction this school year for Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy, about 650 Enota students will share the campus at Centennial Arts Academy with its expected 850 students.
The two schools will operate separately with their own faculty and staff, although students will see each other during lunch and recess. Enota will have its office and several classrooms in two modular buildings at Centennial and also occupy three and a half pods to accommodate more classes. Centennial will use the rest of the building, including the media center and the gym.
After working months on what school officials have called a transition campus, Enota Principal Wesley Roach said he has come up with a new name.
“I’m calling it the adventure campus,” Roach said. “It’s an adventure. It’s going to be an exciting year. It will have its share of challenges and inconveniences and we’ll all be glad when we get finished with it, but in the interim there will be good things, too. We’ll have an opportunity to do some cross-school collaboration like we’ve never had before. Our kids will bump into each other.”
Centennial Principal Leslie Frierson is also upbeat about the coming year.
“I think change is hard for everyone whether you’re the visitor or the host,” Frierson said. “It’s difficult when you’re used to doing things a certain way to try to merge the two together, but I know without a doubt that both schools are 100 percent focused on doing what’s best for the students.
“The grown-ups in the building — we can adjust to altered schedules, to confined space, to less storage. But the children, they don’t need to be bothered by that,” she added. “That’s the charge for Centennial and Enota — the adult people in the building — to lead as adults and to make it a seamless transition for the children.”
“Change is not easy; birthing new things is not easy,” Roach said. “We don’t kid ourselves into thinking it’s a cakewalk, and yet, we’re the adults and our job is to figure out how it can work the best that it can possibly work.”
Enota students and parents will likely see more differences than the Centennial family, according to the two principals. Centennial car riders will continue to come in through the front of the building, while Enota car riders will arrive from the Woods Mill entrance to keep traffic flow going.
Enota’s front office will also be different, located in a modular building where visitors will have to be buzzed in for security reasons. But Roach said he doesn’t think learning will be affected.
“What happens in our classrooms with our kids, I don’t think you’ll see any difference except what would be our normal intentions for improvement,” he added. “Our focus is on quality of instruction, helping children to achieve and reach their learning goals. That doesn’t really happen because of car rider lines. That happens because of the instruction in our school.”
Each school will have 10 or so activity teachers, such as a technology teacher or a Spanish teacher, who use carts to carry equipment and materials to classrooms.
“I don’t want it to come across that we are in a crisis; we are not,” Roach said about the teachers with carts. “Our teachers often do this model where they come into a classroom. Our children are not going to suffer from this.”
Facility plans do not call for Enota to use the media center or gym at Centennial. Roach said Enota will have a mobile media center and is planning physical education options.
“Our P.E. teacher knows that he has to plan to do activities outside or he has to plan activities that he can do inside,” Roach said. “Then, if there are occasions where the gym would be available to us, that would just be a little bonus.”
Frierson said she is hopeful the gym will be available at times.
“Many years ago, our gym floor was destroyed by a flood, or a leak, and our P.E. had to be exclusively outside or in classrooms,” she said. “We have experienced that, so we know what that is like. I am hopeful our P.E. departments will be able to be understanding of each other.”
Roach said the two schools will work to maintain their individual identities. For example, Enota still plans to have its annual Multiple Intelligences Fair in January.
“We’re still Enota and we’re going to be very careful to protect our identity, and those things that are our hallmarks will continue to be our hallmarks,” Roach said.
Frierson said her students are “excited” about the fact that some of their friends are going to be on the campus and added that changes will be less noticeable by her students than by Enota.
“I think the Centennial families will experience much less transition,” she said. “Maybe something that will be different is the lunch schedule because it’s going to be tighter in the cafeteria. We aren’t going to have those spillover tables where parents can come and have their own little area where they can sit. Parents are still welcome to come for lunch; we’ll just have to figure out what that looks like, how to accommodate it. We don’t want any parent to feel like because it’s crowded that they’re not welcomed because that’s something the children look forward to.”
Roach added there has even been discussion about adding some outdoor seating for lunch.
The principals said the fact the situation is temporary makes it easier for everyone to deal with the challenges.
“I think it is letting the teachers know this isn’t forever, but this is our reality right now,” Frierson said. “We have to make the best of it. We are the grown-ups in the building and we’re going to adjust and we’re going to be fine.”
Roach added that while the plan is for one school year, the schools will adjust if construction is delayed.
“While the best case scenario is opening our brand-new school in the fall of ’18, we are aware that there are factors out of our control that affect construction schedules,” he said. “If it takes a year and a semester, it will be a year and a semester, but we continue to hope and pray for the best. Sometimes, challenges are more easily endured when you know there’s a great end coming, so we’re encouraging our parents, our students, our staff to remember where we’re going when this is done.”
Frierson agreed the schools would adjust to any changes in the schedule, but added, “we’re not praying for a drought on the land, but we do hope that they have favorable building conditions.”
After all the planning, Frierson and Roach said they are excited to begin the school year and see what adjustments still need to be made.
“I think that’s when we’re going to be able to work out any kinks,” Frierson said. “It’s easy to sit down and come up with a plan on paper and see what the procedures are, but until you get 1,500 little people implementing that procedure, you don’t know. We’re dealing with children who bring a whole world of unpredictability.”