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McKeesport Area's Twin Rivers school opens for classes

| Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, 7:50 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertulo | Daily News
Twin Rivers Intermediate principal Paul Sweda escorts third-grader Luciano Lanz into the new building.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Fourth-graders, including Amiyah Acie and Nathan Schumacher settle into their new seats in Geremiah Ochap's classroom at the new Twin Rivers Intermediate School on Thursday.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Holding a sign for students to recognize Tracie Pry's fourth-grade class, Keyonna Wright stands with friends, from left, Ja'Mera Burgwin, Faith Moore and Anya Marshall on Thursday, the first day of classes at the new Twin Rivers Intermediate.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Fourth-grader David Boatright looks around the cafeteria of the new Twin Rivers Primay/Intermediate School while having breakfast on Thursday, the first day there for kids in third through fifth grades.

McKeesport Area School District opened classes at Twin Rivers Intermediate for the first time on Thursday, welcoming wide-eyed students who filled the halls with gasps and cheers as they experienced the new building.

Some shouted, “Cool!” and others silently mouthed the word, “Wow,” as students joined their teachers in the library, located just inside the school's entryway, and walked in groups to cut ribbons in the doors of each classroom.

“They are in awe,” principal Paul Sweda said. “When they walked in the door, I saw jaws dropping. They were just amazed at how different everything looks.”

The Twin Rivers design is open and bright — glass lines the exterior walls of common areas, including the stairwells and the ceilings in the halls. An indoor courtyard with windows gives students an inside look at the school's recycling center, heating system and rainwater collection system.

Fourth-grader David Boatright sat in the school's round cafeteria, built with wide windows like those at the district's Francis McClure Primary/Intermediate School in White Oak, and said, “Everything about this place is cool.”

Having celebrated his 10th birthday on Wednesday, David said the new school feels like the perfect gift.

“Today keeps getting better and better,” he said.

Students seemed happy to be in a new location and eager, not only to look around, but to learn.

“Everything is fresh,” guidance counselor Cory Kunicky said. “Physically and emotionally, it's a powerful experience. Students will be enlightened by this process.”

Students commented most on having lockers and on the building's size, from the school itself to the common areas and classrooms.

“It's big, and you have a lot more room,” third-grader Jaiden Flint said.

“The library is so big that everybody can fit in it,” classmate Cole Bachman added.

“I'm happy because we have a bigger classroom, and my legs can fit under the desk,” Zach Werner chimed in with a laugh.

After getting settled in their classrooms, Sweda's voice came over the loudspeaker. He led students in the Pledge of Allegiance and the Twin Rivers pledge, which reminds students to be kind and respectful on a daily basis.

“We're off to a great new start here,” he told students. “Be polite and kind. We've got a great building to celebrate.”

Superintendent Rula Skezas described Thursday as emotional.

“Just seeing the kids walking up the sidewalk was something we had hoped for and dreamed about,” she said. “It's finally coming to fruition.”

Skezas said the building was filled with enthusiasm from all angles, because students and staff are happy to be a part of the district's new direction at Twin Rivers.

“It's like a family here. We really are,” she said. “You don't have that in many places. Everyone works so well together. We've had a lot of collaboration and communication through the construction process and the move to this new building.”

Teachers began prepping their classrooms late last week, and all rooms were fully functional by Thursday's opening. That includes the use of Promethean boards and other smart board technology.

Fifth-grade teacher Brittny Doss said the last few weeks have been hectic, but seeing students' reactions has proven the process' worth.

“We were packing at G.W. and unpacking here,” Doss said. “The custodians did a really good job of unpacking the big boxes for us. The administration helped out, too — whether it was hanging a clock, unpacking or providing lunch.”

Twin Rivers Intermediate students began the 2013-14 school year in the old George Washington Elementary building. Twin Rivers Primary students started at Centennial and are preparing for a Feb. 5 move.

The new building remains under construction in the halls and common areas, and workers are concentrating on having the primary classrooms finished.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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