James Maciel-Andrews, 10, couldn’t wait for the school year to start Wednesday morning. It was the first day for him—and for his new school building.
“I got up early this morning because I was really excited,” said the East Rock Community Magnet School fifth-grader. Judging from the scene, he wasn’t alone.
An enthusiastic crowd gathered Wednesday morning for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the opening of the school’s new building after a three-year, $45 million construction project. (Read about the project here.) The new building, at 133 Nash St., replaces the original 1973 structure, which many saw as a prison-like eyesore and which Mayor John DeStefano (pictured) called “one of the most God-awful ugly buildings we’ve ever seen.”
During the construction, students attended school at a swing space in Hamden. According to student James Maciel-Andrews (pictured), that building was no paradise, either.
“I’m glad there’s no more rugs or carpets or dirty old lockers” in the new school, he said. “I love the new space. There’s a big gym, new lockers, good classrooms.”
“We are celebrating a dream come true for East Rock School,” said Principal Peggy Pelley, noting the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
It was certainly a teacher’s dream: dozens of students, rambunctious but well-behaved, bursting with excitement to go to school.
“I’m pumped up, man,” said a young voice within the churning sea of pom-poms.
Some parents hope that the new building helps transform East Rock School into a desired neighborhood school. Although the magnet school draws students from all over New Haven, East Rock families have priority in admissions. In the past, few parents chose to take advantage, instead competing for coveted spots in the nearby Worthington Hooker school, a K-8 neighborhood school split between buildings on Canner Street and Whitney Avenue. (Read about that transformation effort here.)
The crowd at Wednesday morning’s opening, composed mainly of students’ families and school employees, included a number of East Rockers with no child yet enrolled, suggesting that the process of remaking East Rock School as a neighborhood school may be underway.
Marannie Rawls-Philippe (pictured) said she hopes hopes to send her 2 1/2-week-old son Lucien to the school in a few years.
“I like that we can walk here,” said Rawls-Philippe, who was planning on home-schooling until she looked into East Rock School. “And I like that it’s a community school where I’m not sticking my son on such a fixed path like math-science.”
“This has uplifted the whole neighborhood,” said Jane Linley, who doesn’t have any children at the school. “The other one was like an armed camp. I’m thrilled for the kids.”
Schools Superintendent Garth Harries (pictured) reminded the crowd that the changes, though significant, are cosmetic. “We are not starting new,” he said. “East Rock as a school has been a wonderful school for a long time.”
Britt Anderson (at right in photo), who has been involved with efforts to increase neighborhood interest in the school and whose daughter Printha (at left), 6, was entering first grade, agreed with Harries. The new building, she said, “means that the quality and beauty of the building match the school that it houses.”
Kathy Werth (pictured in her classroom), preparing to start her 28th year teaching third grade at the school, said that the most important change is the new windows. The old building had “very little windows that you couldn’t even see out of,” she said. Her new classroom features a wall of nearly floor-to-ceiling glass that allows sunshine to pour in.
“The kids respond to it,” she said of the sunny atmosphere. “I think the behaviors will be better.”