K.M. Smith-Kennedy Transitioning to the future

Transitioning to the future in GNA
By Harley LaRue, Newspaper In Education student writer
Published: October 24, 2018

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Early newspaper article announcing the dedication of the John F. Kennedy Memorial School in Nanticoke.

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Early newspaper article.

A rich history

According to the Nanticoke Historical Society, construction began on the John F. Kennedy Elementary School in 1962, the first new school constructed in Nanticoke in 40 years. It was the fifth elementary school to be named after a president. It had the first school cafeteria in Nanticoke, which served the Kosciuszko School, as well. Originally, it included grades 1-6 under Marie Fisher and later Stella Pokapus. Ettore J. Lippi was the architect and Grosek and Sons of Plains were the general contractors of the $400,000 school, reported The Citizens’ Voice in November, 1993.

The Nanticoke School Board held a meeting just four and a half hours after president Kennedy was assassinated in 1963; all seven board members unanimously agreed to honor JFK with the building of the new school. It was arguably the first school to be named after the deceased president. The elementary school was officially dedicated to John F. Kennedy on Oct. 17, 1964. It was open to students from Hanover, Honey Pot, and West Main Street. Even then, the school was technologically advanced, for the school had built-in television facilities.

Consolidated campus

Since then, many changes have been made to the renovated school. The campus has not been destroyed, as it could never be forgotten; rather, the Greater Nanticoke Area School District simply moved to improve the building. Nearly $9 million dollars and three years were spent on the building and planning of the Kennedy Early Childhood Center to ensure the best possible environment for children to learn and develop. All of the schools within the district sit on one campus, making it both convenient and familiar. The building is now equipped with 30 classrooms, two of which are dedicated to pre-K students, a principal’s office, a nurse’s suite, a conference room, a handicap accessible entrance, a cafeteria, and a large group instruction room. Making use of the new space, second grade was also moved into the building. The use of technology in classrooms has soared, and the trend continues with new Promethean boards in the classrooms. Each of the classrooms are also equipped with air conditioning. To top it all off, the building is LEED (Leading in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver Certified, meaning it’s low energy and low waste. Air quality and energy use are only two factors that help with earning LEED points. The school district was rewarded $300,000 in turn for the certification. The high school has also acquired a certification — the YES Certification.

The Kennedy Early Childhood Center has been a highly anticipated project in the community. The school is dedicated to advancing childhood education and giving young children an environment that allows them to thrive. The new technology brings them one step closer to the outside world from the safety of a classroom. The building was designed to give students an education that will leave a lasting impression and allow them to become successful. The everlasting support of the community encourages students and teachers to challenge themselves and become confident in their actions — both in and outside of school. Teachers and staff are now able to communicate across campus, allowing staff to collaborate and share ideas.

The GNA Insider had the opportunity to speak with Valerie Bartle, the new principal at KECC. She has worked for the district for 17 years; 10 1/2 of these years have been spent teaching third, fourth, and fifth grade while she dedicated another 2 1/2 years to serving as the dean of students. Like many other teachers, she got her start as a substitute teacher for four years. When asked what improvements have been made as well as their impact on the learning environment, she replied:

“I am overjoyed about the opening of the new school. The Kennedy Early Childhood Center offers plenty of new advances in technology that were not available at K.M. Smith. Students will also have less transitioning among buildings in the district.

“One of the most exciting new programs is the Breakfast in the Classroom program. Students are now offered a nutritious breakfast that they are able to eat in their classroom when they arrive in the morning. This allows for improved accountability of the students upon arrival, as well as more instructional time during the day.

“KECC also has a large-group instructional room, which can be utilized for a variety of activities, including multi-class presentations, therapy sessions, indoor recess, etc.

“The nurse’s suite is definitely the nicest suite we have in the district. It contains a main office, a cot room, an exam room, and a full functioning bathroom, which includes a shower. We are hoping that the exam room could be a makeshift clinic in the future, where students are able to receive immunizations so they are not excluded from school.

“It is bittersweet to know that K.M. Smith, where I, and many of my teachers, graduated kindergarten from, will be closed forever. Many of my staff members struggled with knowing they will never teach in that school again, but they have done an excellent job turning this building into their new home. This is one of the most hard-working groups of teachers I have ever had the opportunity to work with, and they continue to teach me new things every day.”

The GNA Insider had the opportunity to speak to several of the staff at KECC, and they all seem to agree on one thing: the sense of family on campus and the use of technology is astounding. The staff is immensely dedicated to helping children develop and grow in an environment that makes them feel safe. In the words of second grade teacher Lauren Dembowski, “the children seem to love (the atmosphere), and that’s all that matters! This new environment helps them gain a learning experience that will last a lifetime.”

Harley LaRue is a student at Greater Nanticoke Area High School. Student columns are published Wednesdays during the school year.

Susan DeCinti

Q. How long have you worked as a teacher here at GNA? What grade do you teach?

A. I have been teaching in the GNA district for 21 years. I am currently a kindergarten teacher.

Q. How do you feel about the new school?

A. I am adjusting to the new building and schedule. I miss K.M. Smith but love air conditioning.

Q. How has the transition to the new school helped positively influence the education of students and teachers?

A. Being able to work with other grade level staff has been great. Sharing ideas and ways to improve with peers has helped. Technology is one of the students’ favorites.

Q. What are some new improvements you have noticed in the short time you have spent in the new building?

A. Being able to incorporate new technology into lessons is a great improvement for both students and teachers.

Q. How are the children reacting to a new environment?

A. Kindergarten students are curious and excited by nature and seem to like the new school and new friends.

Lauren Dembowski

Q. How long have you worked as a teacher here at GNA? What grade do you teach?

A. I have been a teacher at GNA for seven years. I teach second grade.

Q. How do you feel about the new school?

A. The new school was definitely a transition with a lot of change. However, the kiddos and staff make it a special place to be.

Q. How has the transition to the new school helped positively influence the education of students and teachers?

A. The new school offers more collaboration among colleagues, since we are all on the same campus. It allows the students to experience less transition between buildings. Also, it helps them focus more on education rather than having to learn a brand new routine and procedures yearly.

Q. What are some new improvements you have noticed in the short time you have spent in the new building?

A. Luckily, this year all grades K-2 grade have access to better technology. This school has an air conditioning system, too. Also, it has a close knit staff willing to help make a difference!

Q. How are the children reacting to a new environment?

A. The children seem to love it and THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS! This new environment helps them gain a learning experience that will last a lifetime.

Rebecca Mendrzycki

Q. How long have you worked as a teacher here at GNA? What grade do you teach?

A. I have been at GNA for 14 years. I teach 1st grade.

Q. How do you feel about the new school?

A. I am enjoying many of the new features it has to offer. The technology and being able to collaborate with the faculty are just some of the benefits.

Q. How has the transition to the new school helped positively influence the education of students and teachers?

A. It’s wonderful to have everyone from Pre-K to 2nd grade all in one school. The staff is now able to personally interact on a daily basis, which helps promote the students’ development and education.

Q. What are some new improvements you have noticed in the short time you have spent in the new building?

A. Our rooms are now both spacious as well as climate controlled. We also have Promethean boards in each room that allow for more student engagement.

Q. How are the children reacting to a new environment?

A. They are definitely enjoying the new school. The technology that this school has to offer makes the students want to learn and participate everyday. They are also enjoying seeing and going to our adjoining Elementary Center for gym, music, library, and computers.

Ryan Amos

Q. How long have you worked as a teacher here at GNA? What grade do you teach?

A. This is my 13th year as a kindergarten teacher at Greater Nanticoke Area and my ninth year as the head teacher of grades K-2.

Q. How do you feel about the new school?

A. The new school is outstanding. The classrooms have beautiful cabinetry and are designed in a way to maximize the supplemental tools associated with our progressive and goal oriented curriculum.

Q. How has the transition to the new school helped positively influence the education of students and teachers?

A. Administration, teachers, and staff began working in the summer to ensure the transition for our students was seamless. Mr. Karl Kivler, our janitor, works non-stop all day to keep our building looking as new as the first day. Our lunch ladies, led by Mrs. Cathy Golembeski, make the children feel at home daily with delicious lunches served in our new cafeteria. Our nurse, Mrs. Sandy Bogdon, is able to more efficiently take care of our students due to the resources available to her in the multiple room nurse’s office. Our teachers are able to utilize the state of the art technology in each of their classrooms to supplement our curriculum. Mrs. Bartle, our principal, has worked on all aspects of the day to day operations to make our new building a great place for everyone to achieve success.

Q. What are some new improvements you have noticed in the short time you have spent in the new building?

A. Having everyone on the same campus allows for better collaboration among all staff and grade levels. The technology has made an instant impact on our ability to deliver materials to our students in a multitude of fun and engaging ways.

Q. How are the children reacting to a new environment?

A. The students are really enjoying the new school. Our large group area with movable seating and giant drop down screen seems to be the favorite new place among our students.