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Teachers, students ecstatic with first day at new Palmetto campus

PALMETTO -- Gone are the days when teacher Priscilla Croskey and her aide Annette Dyer would dig in tote bags for supplies because there was no storage space available in their classroom. The totes were used to stock materials to teach their special needs students whose class was housed in a portable building on Palmetto Elementary school grounds.

“We felt unattached from the school,” Croskey said. “We made it work, though.”

Tuesday students and faculty were jubilant about their new surroundings during the first day of classes at the new Palmetto Elementary School at 1540 10th St. W. Croskey’s new classroom now has storage closets and a boys and girls bathroom is just a few feet away with a shower stall specially built for special needs students.

And that’s only a few of the things that have Croskey and Dyer as excited as their students.

“It’s just a dream come true,” Dyer said about the new facilities.

The special needs classroom is outfitted with state-of-the-art technology and Croskey is armed with a Smartboard to challenge her students.

“The word ‘can’t’ isn’t in my vocabulary. I set the bar high for everybody,” Croskey said. “Society tends to look down on ESE (exceptional student education) children. Some of these kids didn’t even know how to hold a pencil. They have soared since I started implementing math.”

Children poured out of buses and parents’ cars Tuesday morning staring at all the newness of the $17.4 million school. Exclamations of “this is nice” and “isn’t this pretty?” were heard as students were ushered by staffers into the school’s cafeteria before the first bell rang.

The front office was a beehive of activity. The creme-colored walls and brown-orange furniture coupled with the bright red-orange wall were a vivid greeting to new and returning students.

“The building is absolutely gorgeous,” said parent Sheryl Flint,

Staffers and teachers worked to keep students focused on being in the right place. Parents were given maps to help students find their way around.

And there were still lots of details being sorted out -- the front desk computer hadn’t been installed and moving boxes waited to be emptied. Principal Eddie Hundley had a full box on his desk. New lamps sat unplugged and a flat screen television rested in the corner of his office beside artwork on the floor.

“The students are just excited to be in a new facility,” Hundley said. “Parents expressed their gratitude about the safer environment.”

A black fence surrounds the 10th Street facility’s playground and sports fields, which include swings, a mini-rock wall and slides. The 107,437-square-foot site also has a gated entrance.

Diane Lang, president of the Palmetto Family Organization and a member of the school’s design team, was pleased that the new campus was able to be closed off.

She held her daughter McKenzie’s hand as they walked across the parking lot into the school.

“She’s a little nervous now that the big day is here,” Lang said about the fourth-grader.

It’s also the first school building Hundley has opened as a principal.

“Now it’s time to get back into the instruction,” he said. “It’s very easy to lose instruction time when you’re focusing on the move.”

In all the whoopla he offers a message to parents.

“Be patient with kids and with the staff,” he said.

Croskey’s class no longer feels detached. The small group of less than 10 is in a classroom in the center of campus.

“They’re so excited they can’t even focus,” she said. “Now, this is more of a classroom than a baby-sitting room.”