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Displaced Westside students settled in at Ben Hulse — but ready to ‘go home'

April 28, 2002|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH, Staff Writer

When can we go home?" is the question the children at Westside Elementary School have been asking their principal Nancy Rood for the past two months.

No, it's not the longest school detention period on record but the situation that causes the children to ask that question is rather unique.

The first week of March the 75 children attending Westside, along with their teachers and principal, moved into portable classrooms at Ben Hulse Elementary in Imperial while their school, which lies west of Seeley, underwent modernization work.

"It's a school within a school," is the way Imperial elementary school district superintendent Barbara Layaye described the arrangement on Friday, "and it is a rather unique situation."

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Rood, who teaches second grade as well as being Westside's principal, was mindful that the temporary move might be disconcerting for some of the younger children so she brought a few reminders of their "home school" with her to Ben Hulse.

There's the little red school house shingle hanging outside the office that says "Welcome to Westside Elementary" and the large flowerpot by the office door with a "Westside" sign planted firmly in it. And there's the two benches, used by generations of Westside students, sitting outside the office.

"We anticipated the move being a nightmare logistically but because everyone pitched in, it went really smoothly … teachers, parents, spouses, everyone helped," Rood said Friday in her temporary office at Ben Hulse.

When asked how the children had coped with the move from their little country school into the larger environment of Ben Hulse, Rood described the children as being a little overwhelmed at first by the sheer size of their new environment.

"I think it took them a little while to get used to things but they settled down well once the initial excitement of the move died down."

Ten-year-old Breanne Paradise, a fourth grader at Westside said she liked being at Ben Hulse but was definitely ready to go back to Westside.

"Well, this school is bigger and we have more room to play but you don't always get to sit next to your friends at lunch because the cafeteria is really big. At our school it's smaller and you always get to sit with your friends," Breanne said.

Later that morning as Rood walked through the stripped down classrooms at the "real" Westside school and discussed the progress of work with carpenter/foreman John Eckard, she was pleased to see lots of tackboard walls being installed in each of the four classrooms.

"Teachers love walls they can staple things into," the educator said with a grin.

Modernization work at the school requires the interior of each classroom and the office to be completely gutted and rebuilt from the frame upward. The school's exterior walls will be getting a fresh coat of paint in the deal as well, with one notable exception.

"Our superintendent was very clear with the workmen that the mural on the walls outside the office was not to be messed with," Rood said as she indicated the colorful stick figures painted by the students along with help from their parents and teachers last September.

Stepping carefully around pieces of drywall and reels of fiber optic line stacked on the floor, Rood entered what was, and will be again, her second grade classroom.

On one wall someone had spray painted the command "Tackboard South Wall Only!" in bright red paint.

Smiling, Rood related how one parent, dropping by on the weekend to check out the work progress, had mistaken the message for the work of gang-related graffiti artists and had immediately phoned her to report the apparent vandalism.

"I drove out to see what was happening and was relieved to find it was merely a foreman's reminder for the workmen to make sure they install a wall I can staple things to," the principal said.

Sighing wistfully as she walked from classroom to classroom, she said "I don't think there is much hope of making the May 15 projected finish date though."

Rood is hoping that at the latest the work will be finished before the children leave for summer break.

"Everyone at Ben Hulse has been wonderful to us but we are still looking forward to the time when we can come back home. The children all ask me ‘When are we going home?' because they really think of our little country school as home."

>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or dingo87@earthlink.net

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