Changes await students at Latrobe, Ligonier Valley, Derry Area
Students in the Greater Latrobe, Ligonier Valley and Derry Area school districts might not be excited to give up their summer vacation and return to school, but officials have been working hard to prepare with improvements to buildings as well as courses and curricula.
Mike Porembka, director of teaching and learning, said the summer affords staff at Greater Latrobe a chance to set the stage for the new school year.
“Everyone thinks that nothing happens in the summer, but it's where all the preparations are made,” he said.
Some changes students might not recognize, such as roof repairs and parking lot paving at Latrobe Elementary School, while others like the brand-new orange overhang for the bus driveway at the junior high school stand out.
“It will be interesting to see what the kids say when they come, what their reactions are,” said Ken Millslagle, director of facilities and operations.
About $1.1 million was spent on the junior high for improvements to the bus driveway, front hallway and main entrance to the building with $1 million contributed from the Greater Latrobe Partners in Education Foundation.
The hallway renovations will allow for better student visibility and display of the school's art collection, while the office and entrance changes will increase security.
Construction began in the spring, just as the school year was ending, and it's on time to be completed before the first day of school, Millslagle said.
“This project really went smoothly on a very short time schedule,” he said.
Orange bulkheads, hiding lights for future pieces of the school's art collection, brighten the hallway with black columns made to look like steel girders.
“If you came in here before, this hallway was kind of dark,” Millslagle said.
The concrete hallway connecting the junior and senior high schools was also repaired.
At Baggaley Elementary, the primary playground was a major addition as well as some lettering to make the building more visible on Route 982.
The playground was built with the help of volunteers on Aug. 7 with about $65,000 collected over years of fundraising through the parent-teacher organization, including special events like read-a-thons and raffle nights.
The space includes swings, sensory objects like chimes and drums, a rock-climbing wall and adaptive elements meant to accommodate physically disabled children.
Students there will also get to know two new teachers. Amanda Danser will teach sixth grade, and Jeffery Smith will instruct fifth grade. Paula Brindle is the new school counselor.
At Latrobe Elementary, students will get to know Sylvan Pinto, a yearlong substitute in sixth grade.
All elementary students will be introduced to a science curriculum that continues through eighth grade to help prepare for lab classes like biology in ninth grade, Porembka said.
“The idea is to provide our students with excellent science content and inquiry-based labs to better prepare them for the classes they will take at the junior and senior high schools,” he said.
At the high school, the “bring your own device” policy will extend to ninth-graders with freshmen and sophomores having the option to use a school-issued Google Chromebook 2 laptop for a technology service fee.
The new year at Ligonier Valley will bring learning opportunities through several added classes and curricula.
Ligonier Valley High, in its second year of a 1-to-1 iPad initiative, is implementing more curricula through the Apple devices, according to principal Tim Kantor.
The school will add skill courses from Zulama, a curriculum program developed by Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center that melds technology, creativity and critical thinking.
This year's new courses will include screenwriting, mobile app and game design, game design, game programming and three-dimensional modeling.
A 3-D printer purchased at the end of last school year will be utilized in the three-dimensional modeling class, as well as the existing architectural drafting and computer-aided drafting classes.
“Previously students would be making stick models of their designs,” Kantor said. “Now we're actually going to be able to print them out and make a model, which is pretty exciting.”
The high school will premiere a class that combines education with a local business partnership.
The youth in business program will provide students the opportunity to go to Carpenter Latrobe Specialty Steel three days a week to learn the manufacturing business “from start to finish,” Kantor said.
“Basically they're going to learn the manufacturing business from top to bottom – from advertising, to placing orders, to doing costs, to actual production, to shipping,” he said.
A roof costing $575,168 will be completed at Laurel Valley Elementary in time for the new year. The multilayer roof built by Miller-Thomas Gyekis replaced the school's 36-year-old one, according to building and grounds supervisor Bob Losier.
Like the high school, the elementary schools plan to add science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, or STEAM, curricula into second grade. Principal Ed Moran said the lessons will focus on higher-level thinking.
“It's thinking outside the box,” Moran said. “I know that's a cliché, but that's really what they're doing.”
Principal Dave Steimer said students will have a STEAM course added to their exploratory course rotation for sixth and seventh grades.
Taught by Adam Storey, the class will focus on renewable energy. For one lesson, Steimer said, students will test blades on a model of a wind turbine to determine the impact of the blade size.
“They're going to measure the energy that they produce and determine what's most effective,” he said.
Eighth-grade students will be introduced to Secondary Transition Experiences and Practices for Success, or STEPS, a class that will teach the skills needed to make successful transitions throughout school and beyond.
The main focus areas of the class will be career exploration, study skills and interpersonal skills.
“With career exploration, there's a definite relationship between education, planning, choice and, of course, success in your career,” Steimer said. “We chose study skills because we want them to have the skills for effective learning that will go across their life span. Interpersonal skills — they have to be effective communicators, and you need that to be successful in your personal life, social life, education and, of course, professionally, too.”
When middle and high school students arrive for the first day of school, they will pass through new secure entrance vestibules.
Schoff Construction of Irwin finished the $77,677 entrance renovations, adding a second set of doors at each school's main entrance to make a secure vestibule where office staff can screen visitors before granting them access to common areas as students and teachers are present. Grandview Elementary has a similar entryway system.
The district's other major summer construction project will be on display during Friday night football games and physical education classes.
The running track at the high school stadium was replaced by Nagle Athletic Services of East Syracuse, N.Y. The track, which was more than two decades old, had been resurfaced a few years ago, but bubbling under the rubber surface necessitated the $478,000 project this summer. Workers painted lane lines and numbers and put the finishing touches on the track this month.
“They did the numbering all in gold with a blue background,” Athletic Director Brett Miller said. “It's sharp. We're all proud of it.”
Students will be paying slightly more for meals in the district's cafeterias this year.
The school board voted to increase lunch prices by 10 cents at Grandview Elementary and 15 cents at the middle and high schools. Lunches for elementary students will cost $2.20, and lunches at the middle and high schools will cost $2.50.
The biggest change to meal prices will be during breakfast. The elementary cafeteria will charge $1 for breakfast, having offered it for free previously. Breakfast will remain at $1.25 at the secondary schools, and lunches for adults will cost $4.
School board member Nathan Doherty said the price increases are being implemented to help the district gradually raise its meal prices to levels mandated by the federal government.
Enrollment at the Barbara Thompson Early Learning Center will be at an all-time high this school year, according to Derry Area School District Foundation President Rod Bisi.
“I'm pleased to announce that we have 54. It is our largest enrollment ever,” Bisi said. “Last year we were in the low 40s. We've never been over 50, so this is the first year since we opened the school back in 2007. ... We have 28 pre-K students. Those are students who will be entering kindergarten next year, and 28 preschool.”
A task force of district staff, administrators, parents and school board members will spend the school year examining possible options to address overcrowding at Grandview, including the possibility of moving fifth-grade classes to the middle school.
“We've appointed six focus groups to investigate various facets of the possible Grade 5 realignment: cafeteria considerations, transportation, two to deal with staffing — one with teachers, one with support services — one for curriculum programs and scheduling and one for the physical plan,” Doherty said. “We've only had one large committee meeting so far, really just to identify these six focus groups and appointed some district personnel to them. We're still going to solicit some more parent names for their interest.”
The district will distribute a dedicated email address for the Grade 5 realignment task force to solicit input from parents, he said.
“This is a very comprehensive process,” Doherty said. “These focus groups will meet, I'm sure, many times. We'll have several larger committee groups to bring in the heads of those focus groups to discuss with the board delegates and administration who are on the larger overseeing body. There could even be subcommittees to each of these (focus groups) if necessary — basically just to explore all the options, the ups and the downs, the pros and the cons. I'm actively a part of this task force. I welcome all opinions, positive and negative. ... We want to make it a very transparent process.”
Nicole Chynoweth, Stacey Federoff and Greg Reinbold are staff writers for Trib Total Media.