CHESTER HILL, Clearfield County — When Philipsburg-Osceola students went back to school Wednesday, 575 of them went someplace no Mountie had gone before.
The P-O Middle School officially opened its doors even though portions of the building are still under construction. Fifth- through eighth-graders filled the former North Lincoln Hill Elementary, which has been renovated and had an addition built on to take the place of the now-closed junior high.
Principal Linda Kline-Shaffer was happy to show off her new home, pointing out the color-coded decor that divided grades and common areas, and highlighting new features like the courtyard that will open off a library planned to be easy, accessible and open with a Barnes and Noble-like cafe atmosphere.
“I can’t help it. I’m just so excited,” she said.
Students who came from the old junior high noticed plenty of differences, not the least of which was light that poured in everywhere. Classrooms are designed to be long rather than deep, giving every student the feeling of sitting close to the front instead of slouching in the back. In Ashley Yost’s fifth grade, she has the trapezoidal desks arranged to let students work collaboratively.
Those students started the year by drafting their own list of classroom rules, things like “no bullying” and “be respectful.” The kids all signed their mutually agreed upon list, creating a contract for behavior as fresh as their new environment.
“The first day is always a learning experience,” said new Assistant Principal Kelly Kephart Rees, as the office was peppered with students working out bugs in new schedules, like the girl who Kline-Shaffer was helping work out the right math class. “We’re taking it all in. We’re learning for today, and tomorrow will be even better.”
Band teacher Valerie Stiner is temporarily homeless in the building as her spacious band room, formerly the cafeteria, is under construction, slated for a December completion. But she knows it’s worth the wait. Until it’s done, she will move from room to room to teach music.
“It’s not the place you are at. It’s how you teach,” she said.
Students like Joanna Switala and Mackenzie Welker, both eighth-graders, are enthusiastic.
“I think it’s very cool,” said Joanna. “It’s going to be amazing when it’s done.”
Superintendent Gregg Paladina said the first day is a testament to the work of staff, administrators and the construction crew.
“We’ve done a lot of planning to get here,” he said.