Pulaski County Middle School opens

Remember how excited you were when the first day of school arrived?  Most likely you helped pick out your school supplies and had them all organized in your backpack.  Your friends had called or texted you about a thousand times about what they were going to wear.  You wondered what you would eat for lunch that first day, would you like your teacher, who would be your new friends, etc.

Now add to that anticipation a brand new high-tech school, built just for you and your friends, and you can imagine the energy generated at the Pulaski County Middle School’s first day of class on Monday, September 21.

Ms. Kaleigh McKillican, Pulaski County Middle School eighth grade Math teacher, checks a student’s temperature before letting her go to her grade house.

The one big differences between other years’ first day of class and this year’s is the menace of COVID-19, that challenges the logistics of coordinating the safety and health of the students, teachers and staff while ensuring the students receive a quality education.  Face masks, hand sanitizers, Clorox wipes, social distancing, virtual classes and deep cleaning have been added to the curriculum and the cost of education.  However, these challenges didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the returning students.

Some parents dropped off their children at the front door of the school where they were greeted by teachers and staff, ready to help them have a memorable first day experience.  After having their temperatures taken outside the front doors, the students were ushered into the building.   More teachers and staff directed the students to the common area where welcome signs, held up high by eager teachers, collected students into their grade levels of sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

One of the first of students to be dropped off was eighth grader Kaydence Conner whose comment was, “I’m excited about the new school.  I think it is going to bring our community together and make us stronger.”

At the opposite side of the 126,658 square foot school located on Route 11 between Pulaski and Dublin near Pulaski County High School, the buses were dropping off their students at the appropriate grade houses.  The students had their temperatures taken before entering the school and proceeding to the common area where they would gather according to their grade. Then they would walk down the wide hallways into their grade pod, past their lockers and into the collaborative area where they were met by their teachers.

Getting students back into their classrooms this fall was an important goal for Pulaski County administrators, principals, teachers and staff. But because of COVID-19 there had to be certain logistics to consider. Pulaski Middle School Principal Rebecah Smith developed an ingenious plan to help students social distance in either three feet or six feet increments. She had semi-permanent cougar paws spaced along the walls to help them remember. Space between any two paws is three feet, while space between the solid maroon paws is six feet.

Hailey Ferguson, Andria Armes, Rayna Griffith and Blake Hann were among the first bus students to arrive.  They agreed that the best things about being back at school were “seeing their friends again, getting a break from their siblings and looking forward to having fun.”

Who wouldn’t be excited about attending classes in the new $47 million middle school boasting 50 classrooms, two gyms (the main gym seats 1,200), a fitness center, fields for softball, baseball and two multi-purpose fields, open study areas illuminated with natural light and air-conditioning throughout the building.  Also, there are specialized labs for agricultural education and technology so students can learn about robotics.

“Monday was the first day of class at PCMS and so of course there were some things that had to be worked out, said Principal Rebecah Smith.  “Tuesday was great and everything went really well.  The kids are great, I was so pleased.  They were happy to see friends again!  Our staff is doing a wonderful job adapting.  They are being creative and willing to share ideas with each other,” declared Smith.

The students spend much of the time in their classroom so the teachers are giving the students occasional breaks during the day for a few minutes, taking them outside in their courtyards while requiring them to remain a minimum of 6 feet apart.   They are even eating lunch in their classroom.

“Lunch is brought to them.  Staff rolls out food carts and delivers the lunches to the students.  Students or parents fill out a lunch request form each day so the cafeteria personnel can determine how many meals to prepare,” explained Smith.

“Eating lunch in their classroom is a different experience,” Smith noted.

“For the first ten minutes, students are not to be talking so the teacher may show a video or play music or have some activity that doesn’t require talking like an on-line game.  When they finish eating, the students can put their masks back on and have social time.  The best thing about this arrangement is that the kids actually eat their food,” Smith observed.

To accommodate COVID-19 regulations, a split schedule has been devised.  Students whose names end in A – K report to Pulaski County Middle School on Mondays and Tuesdays.  On Thursdays and Fridays, they attend virtual classes.  For students whose names end in L – Z, they attend virtual classes on Mondays and Tuesdays; then report to Pulaski County Middle School to attend classes on Thursdays and Fridays.  The middle school is closed on Wednesdays for deep cleaning, but all students participate virtually according to their schedule.

The public will have an opportunity to tour the new middle school during a public open house on Wednesday, October 14th from 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm.  The regular October meeting of the Pulaski County School Board will follow in the main auditorium at 6:00 pm.

By DANIELLE REID, The Patriot

Top Photo:

Buses arrive at the recently completed Pulaski County Middle School, located on Lee Highway in Dublin.  Sixth, seventh and eighth grade students are dropped off at their “grade houses” and have their temperatures checked before being admitted into school.