CHESTER, Vt. – The year 2019 is off to a great start, at least according to Chester-Andover Elementary School Principal Katherine Fogg. Fogg, along with her team of teachers and other staffers and some 240 elementary school-aged children are finally back in their rightful school building as of Jan. 3, 2019, after a trying start to the school year.
CAES problems began just prior to the start of the school year when a broken boiler caused flooding, destroyed the electrical panel, and led to a succession of other related issues that took months to fix.
CAES grades two through six were placed within a week in available classrooms at nearby Green Mountain Union High School and kindergarten and first graders settled into Chester Baptist Church, next door to the CAES building. After testing revealed air quality issues at the church from long-term mold, the kindergarten and first grade students joined the rest of their school at GMUHS.
Though grateful for the accommodations at the high school, Fogg admits that squeezing into small classrooms, finding other spaces to provide services to their students and operating in shared administrative offices was challenging. Busing students back to the CAES grounds to use the new playground for recess also took a toll, cutting into learning time, but the staff was determined to provide this necessary outlet to their students.
Still, this process has not been without some surprising positives. “The unexpected wonderful gift of it all was the sense of community.” According to Fogg, she has met and been embraced by administrators, community members, and other colleagues throughout this process. She also surveyed her own staff recently and their feedback pointed overwhelmingly to the support from their colleagues, both at CAES and at the high school, that helped to get them through the ordeal.
Fogg also had glowing things to say about the students at GMUHS and talked at length about how kind and respectful they were to both her students and staff. “The kids there say thank you, they hold open the doors, they remind each other there’s little ones in the room and to watch their vocabulary. That was an unexpected wonderful surprise,” she said.
While the older and younger students were together at GMUHS, there were several programs that developed that took advantage of the disparate age groups. Michele Farrar’s ninth grade English class developed a writing project that paired her students with the kindergarten class. There were also expanded mentoring programs that developed. There are plans to continue with the connections made with the high school students that Fogg is exploring now that they have returned to their own building.
Fogg is especially grateful to her staff and the teamwork they’ve displayed throughout the process. There were several new hires that joined the staff before the start of the year. Though they never were able to gather as a team before being thrust into GMUHS, her staff made sure everyone felt welcome and included as they learned to function together. The same pattern repeated when they returned to the CAES building. “People just went out of their way again to make sure everybody knew what to do and where to be. I couldn’t have had a better first day. They came in and they just made it happen. The teamwork…people watch out for each other, that’s the part I’m just so proud of,” said Fogg.
Now back into their classrooms, students and teachers are taking full advantage of the cheerful décor and additional space they can now finally enjoy. The younger classrooms are thriving with a concept they call flexible seating where students can choose from among several unconventional and interesting seating options throughout the classroom. Group small tables, comfortable couches, a rowboat with pillows, and a cushioned bathtub are just some of the options in the school’s classrooms. According to Fogg, it’s a concept that empowers kids to stay focused on their work once they are comfortable in their workspace and something they haven’t been able to appreciate this school year until now.
Improvements to the school include new décor in the library, which has been redone with large painted animal murals and a colorful wooden signpost pointing the way to Narnia, Hogwarts, and The Secret Garden to name a few. And students are finally able to fully engage with the playground, which was completely redone and includes lots of new equipment this year.
“The kids were so happy to be back,” said Fogg and CAES facilities director Jim Spaulding has earned hero status amongst the students. “He gets a standing ovation in every class he walks into,” she said. Spaulding was coordinating repairs daily at the CAES building and was away from the kids until now and according to Fogg, really missed seeing the kids.
Fogg continues to enjoy what is now her new routine and is appreciative of all the support she has gotten during the transition both to GMUHS and now back to the CAES building. “We’re just so happy to be back,” she said.