New year, new schools

Published 10:51 pm Tuesday, September 4, 2018

By Alex Perry and Kellie Adamson

Tuesday was the beginning of a new school year for Suffolk Public Schools and the first day of classes at two new learning spaces in North Suffolk.

The sun was still rising early Tuesday morning as hundreds of students walked into Col. Fred Cherry Middle School on Burbage Drive.

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More than a dozen school buses dropped off children with their backpacks and lunchboxes at the state-of-the-art learning space that still had that new school smell.

Gifted Resource Teacher Megan Farabaugh said they were painting the interior last weekend. The rooms and halls were aired out, but the pleasant scent lingered.

“It’s still all fresh and nice for everyone,” Farabaugh said as she greeted students coming off the buses.

Col. Fred Cherry Middle School was named in honor of the Suffolk native who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than seven years and died in 2016. The two-story, 125,200-square-foot building with more than 25 classrooms was designed to address overcrowding at John Yeates Middle School.

Holly Martie dropped off her children, Addison, 11, and Rafael, 12. Addison was excited for her sixth-grade art classes, while Rafael was hoping he could take a seventh-grade technology class.

Their mother, meanwhile, was happy that they would be in a newer building with so many of their former teachers from John Yeates Middle.

“I feel safe and comfortable with them being here,” she said. “I feel like it’s going to be a great school year.”

The building will house approximately 750 students and about 95 faculty members, according to Dr. Shawn Green, principal of Col. Fred Cherry Middle School. Each grade’s wing is fitted with modern furnishings such as television displays and smaller lockers built for convenience.

Each wing also features a collaborative learning space for students and teachers alike.

“Teachers will sign up to be able to bring their groups to use the open learning area and allow the students to collaborate and work on projects,” Green said.

The young Hawks were properly introduced to their new classrooms and each other in the first period following morning announcements.

Seventh-grade English teacher Rebecca Bradley had her students do some ice-breaking exercises. They worked together in the team-building Helium Stick challenge, an idea Bradley picked up from the website, she said.

Bradley’s students worked to carefully move sticks in one fluid motion as a team and against the clock she had set with a few touches on her SMART Board. She said she’s taught for six years in South Carolina and Georgia, and she’s excited by all the space and technology that’s available at Col. Fred Cherry Middle.

“I’m excited about the possibilities,” she said.

When the sun was up, parents were gathered around the entrance of Florence Bowser on Nansemond Parkway.

The new school, which encompasses more than 114,800 square feet and can house approximately 1,000 students, is named after an educator who taught in Suffolk and other Virginia localities for more than 50 years. The school will replace the former Florence Bowser as well as Driver Elementary School, which shut its doors at the end of last school year, and relieve overcrowding at Creekside Elementary School.

New teachers waited by their classrooms or helped point students in the right direction. Each one of them was ready to utilize the new school and its amenities.

“It’s amazing how far technology has come, and it is amazing that they have put it into our building,” said Early Start teacher Amy Autry.

Autry taught at the old Florence Bowser as well as Driver Elementary, and she is happy to be back at Florence Bowser.

“This building just has Florence’s presence, and it will always have such a special place in my heart,” Autry said.

The energy in the entire school was palpable and teachers were getting goosebumps while they waited for their students.

“You can feel it in the air. It’s a tingling feeling,” said Margaret Shermer as she looked at the goosebumps on her arms. “There is so much excitement, and we are so blessed to have this building.”

The school features new ways to learn around every corner.

There are learning stairs in the center of the first floor, and the stairs can fit an entire grade level for all kinds of presentations. Monitors are also available so that everyone can see what is going on.

Just up the stairs from the miniature amphitheater is the project-based learning area. The open area has a plethora of desks and seats for students to utilize for any kind of group project.

These features are some of Principal Melodie Griffin’s favorite things about the new building.

“The project-based learning area encompasses so much. It encompasses technology, STEM, STEAM and anything else you can think of,” Griffin said, using acronyms that stand for science, technology, engineering and math as well as the addition of the arts.

“This school is absolutely amazing, and we have been waiting for this day for so long.”

As parents took a second look at the school, they loved it just as much as they did during orientation the previous Thursday.

“I think it is awesome. It is beautiful inside and out,” said Melissa Luton as she waited for her granddaughter to get off of the bus. “This school is going to up the ante for other schools in Suffolk. The students will benefit from this greatly.”