BELDING — When school principal Tiffany Jackson stood in the new east wing addition at Ellis Elementary School on the first day of classes after winter break, she gazed upward toward the large glowing chandelier hanging from the ceiling skylight as students hustled around her to their new classrooms.
Marveling at the giant light structure, which is designed in the shape of wind chimes, she made a wish for the new year, hoping for a positive day for her students as they explored the final addition to a school that has been busy with construction since the summer months.
But Jackson was spotted by a curious student, wondering what exactly it was his principal was doing.
“What are you doing, Mrs. Jackson?” the student asked.
“I’m making my wishes,” Jackson replied.
Now, two weeks later into the new year, it is not uncommon to find a student standing underneath the glowing lights, pausing for a moment, and making his or her own wish for the day hoping for it to come true.
A new tradition? Not necessarily, but Jackson said she will welcome it as students continue to explore the spacious new section of the school that features seven new classrooms.
“The kids are so proud that everything is fun and new and exciting here at their school,” Jackson said. “I keep seeing kids stopping to make their wish under the lights as they make their way to class, and sometimes some of the teachers, as well. It’s just a great way to start a conversation with a child, to see what they are hoping comes true for the day.”
The final addition to the elementary school was completed in mid-December and students and faculty were finally able to move into their new classrooms after working in a crowded environment for the first half of the year.
The new area was designed specifically to coincide with the school’s hands-on curriculum, adding five second grade classrooms and two first grade classrooms, as well as several smaller rooms used for conferences, speech and language lessons on an individual basis with students and sensory awareness.
The construction at Ellis Elementary School is part of a $38 million bond project for the district that was approved by voters in 2010. About $8 million of the bond was used for Ellis Elementary School.
Five new classrooms were constructed during the spring and summer, along with an outdoor courtyard for hands-on learning, which features a pond, a river and a waterfall.
“It’s been a great bit of excitement,” Jackson said of the change in atmosphere. “The kids really are taking pride in everything they see. They love to sit out in the hallway on the wiggle seats and work on the counters. The lights are very calming and soothing. As they walk into this new environment, it has just been awesome.”
For second grade student Jaxon Dines, 8, moving into the new classroom was a scary notion at first thought, but after he received a sneak peak of the classroom when helping his teacher Bethany Patterson move supplies into the new room in December, his attitude changed.
“The first day I was worried,” Jaxon said. “But now I like it a lot. I really like the projector screen when we use it in class.”
Jaxon’s classmate, Tyler Slocum, 8, said the change in scenery has made his time in the classroom more enjoyable as well.
“I just really like moving into our new room,” Tyler said. “There are so many windows now, it makes the room seem so much bigger.”
A welcomed change
Second grade teacher Laura Jenks, who has been teaching at Ellis for 14 years, said the new classroom has been a big change for her and a her students, but a change they have welcomed together.
“The classrooms are brighter, roomier and more inviting,” Jenks said. “The classrooms are very well organized and make it easier for the students to utilize their various work spaces.”
Each classroom is slightly different in design, but built with the same mentality — a spacious environment for students to utilize all areas and tools within the classroom.
“It’s a very inviting atmosphere for our kids to see that there are lots of different places they can work,” Jackson said. “They get to journey through this environment all day long, learning skills they need to be successful in life.”
The new addition features a long, spacious hallway with work stations designed on either side of the hallway, allowing students to work outside of the classroom when necessary.
Every student has a locker, with each locker located within classrooms, keeping students more engaged within their classroom setting.
Now that the seven additional classrooms have been completed, 68 preschool students have moved from the Belding Area Schools Administration Building and joined the student body at Ellis Elementary, putting the current preschool through second grade student enrollment at 513 students.
“All of our littlest learners in the whole community are now here at Ellis,” Jackson said. “What a great way to transition from one place to another and collaborate all of our resources for our youngest kids.”
Though students are excited to work in their new classrooms, Jackson said the rest of the student body will continue to enjoy the resources provided within the original classrooms still in use.
“I think in every area of our school, there’s an element that provides an ideal environment for our students to learn and engage in,” she said.
Jackson said the students’ parents will be invited to visit the new wing of the school during a family activity night in March.