WARNER ROBINS -- When 10-year-old Jaylen Allen walked into the newly renovated Pearl Stephens Elementary School, he had the same reaction as many of his schoolmates.
“It’s so big,” the fifth-grade student said.
Thursday was the first day of school for Houston County students, and while many students returned to the same school building they were in last year, others walked into new or refurbished schools.
The new Pearl Stephens, for example, opened Thursday after being closed last school year for $9.5 million in renovations. The school sits in the former Linwood Elementary building on Education Way near Robins Air Force Base. Now, the school is home to a mixture of third- through fifth-grade students from Pearl Stephens, Linwood and Russell elementaries. Across the county in Perry, the $14.5 million Langston Road Elementary School opened to students Thursday.
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It’s no small task moving into a new school, and Pearl Stephens Principal Amanda Brantley has completed that task for the past two school years.
Last year, the former Linwood Elementary temporarily moved to the C.B. Watson Primary building, while workers renovated the building that is now Pearl Stephens Elementary. This year, pre-kindergarten through second-grade students stayed at C.B. Watson, while the older students -- along with Brantley -- moved to the refurbished Pearl Stephens. About 400 students are in the renovated building, and school faculty and staff began moving into the building in early July.
While the process can be hectic, it’s also rewarding, Brantley said.
“Seeing two schools open in two years, to see the kids’ excitement, it’s always rewarding,” she said. “The biggest thing is making sure it’s a second home for our kids.”
One of the biggest changes is a security vestibule in the front of the school, which forces visitors to enter through the office. It’s a safety measure that was not in place before, Brantley said.
“And just the skeletal part of the school has changed,” she said. “It just needed a face-lift.”
While the move was anything but easy, teachers agree the renovations were worth it.
“It’s so much more space, more light,” said Aree Byrd, a special education teacher. “The whole feeling is just different.”
While some students entered a new building and others returned to a spruced-up school, the first day was still typical in many ways. Young students held their parents’ hands as they walked to their classrooms. They toted backpacks and lunch boxes, and many were decked in their best outfits. In one fifth-grade classroom, students were seated and silent as the bell rang and the first day officially began.
“Sometimes, I’m a little nervous, maybe a little frightened by the different people,” 9-year-old Amy Pagenkopf said about the first day back in the classroom. “You have to get used to all the teachers and students.”
To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 744-4331.