By Matt de Simone
In the summer of 2019, the students of Colonial Elementary School broke ground on their new digs off of Murray Drive in Troutville. Last January, the fifth generation of Colonial students finally experienced their first day in the new building since the old school closed its doors after 82 years.
It is quite the building, by the way. The design is based off of the recently constructed Eastern Montgomery Elementary and Price’s Fork Elementary Schools.
Through the front doors is a foyer that provides the front office a look to see who is coming and going. This “double entry” serves a security feature. “Grids” of glass in the entryways and the front office allow the faculty and staff to have eyes on the front doors and the main hallways. School safety was paramount in the layout. Each wing contains a hub that overlooks the entire school. Meaning, a teacher at each end of the school can stand in the middle of a wing and collectively monitor the activity of the hallways throughout the school.
The school’s central hub is the main office that connects the principal’s offices and the school nurse’s office. There is also a connected workroom with teachers’ mailboxes that are accessible from inside the workroom or from the hallway. Teachers don’t have to enter the office to check their mailboxes.
Outside of the main office, a compass rose stretches across the floor. A reconstruction of the front entryway to the old Colonial Elementary School stands in the main foyer facing the front doors. The facade was built of old slate from the original building. The tribute contains a collage of photos taken throughout the school’s history. The tribute is a personal touch added in the school’s construction by Colonial Elementary Principal Tammy Riggs.
“People look at the photos and see their great-grandparents,” Riggs said of the tribute. “Fifth generations are coming here. My dad attended the old Colonial. To have that, the conversation goes right there.”
The state-of-the-art library across from the main office houses shelves of books and a learning center for students. A large Promethean interactive display screen stands in the middle of the learning area. A Promethean board is an interactive whiteboard that allows you to project an image from a laptop or computer. You can also interact with the board through touch or specialized pens. These titanium panels are located in nearly every classroom in the building. Promethean interactive whiteboards are an all-in-one tool that gives students and teachers more of a hands-on learning and teaching experience. The library also contains a small-scale model of the old elementary school.
“I gave my Student Leadership Council a tour of the facility first,” Riggs stated. “We came in the library and one of my students said, ‘Oh, I just never want to leave here!’ The creative seating in the library is really cool and the kids are all engaged.”
The “Cafetorium” at Colonial serves as both cafeteria and auditorium. Foldable, rollable tables make up the area in which the students eat their lunch or snacks. There is a neighboring dining area for students as well as the staff. The stage contains a lighting rig and audio/visual unit on par with many local high school and theater set-ups. This division set up the facility to not only serve the students and staff at Colonial, but for community use as well.
Colonial’s gymnasium is remarkably spacious with fantastic lighting and bleachers that can tuck into the walls for additional space for activities.
Every wing of the school has a resource room. These smaller classrooms serve for small group testing, one-on-one help, and Special Education. Each wing also contains spacious teacher workrooms and storage areas.
The classrooms contain built-in storage for student needs, which was something the former building lacked considerably. Riggs wanted to make sure that the school’s surfaces serve as places to build character. Throughout the halls and classrooms of the school, quotes are printed on the walls to remind students to, for example, “Be somebody who makes everybody feel like somebody.”
The old Colonial Elementary had two computer labs. This new building contains zero as it is now set up for total wireless integration. The Promethean panels act as a “chalkboard” for each classroom.
While construction of the building is nearly complete, Colonial didn’t have Internet hooked up throughout the school until two weeks ago. Despite that lack of a much-needed resource in today’s educational systems, Riggs commends her faculty and staff on their ability to pivot until they finally received Internet access.
“It’s been somewhat of an adventure,” Riggs said of the school’s opening. “It was public knowledge that we didn’t get Internet until recently. The beauty of it was that my teachers did what they do best. What I love and respect them for was that they found a way.”
Without the benefit of Internet, Colonial’s teachers were learning on the fly to operate all the new technology, learn the facility, and submit materials and their attendance once they arrived home later in the day.
“They found a way to use the Promethean boards without the Internet,” Riggs continued. “They did it organically and the kids didn’t know the difference. They didn’t know their teacher was working with them all day, but then going home and doing everything on the Internet that they couldn’t do in school.”
Riggs and her staff rolled with the punches to make sure the students’ learning experiences went off without a hitch despite the deficiency of a lack of Internet access.
One of the neatest additions in the school is a vending machine containing books that promote reading and also leadership skills. Students are given “leadership tokens” they insert into the machine to select a book to take home and read.
Colonial’s new clinic went from being the size of a small office to a large room with multiple cots and a nurse’s office which is the size of the former clinic. In today’s medical climate, Colonial’s clinic is more than adequate with its provided space and isolation.
There are some additions that have yet to be added. Fifth graders will choose to sponsor a wall quote that will be printed on the walls in their wing. Once chosen, the names of the fifth graders will be printed with the quote to leave a lasting legacy in the school.
“It’s been really cool to read what they’ve turned in,” Riggs added. “The students pick the quote they want and then write to me explaining why they want to the quote on the wall. They explain what the quote means and why it is important to the school.”
There will also be a lighthouse added in one of the halls. The old Colonial had a lighthouse in the front lobby of the school. One of the parents will soon construct a new one in the main hall. The construction will take place during the school day so the students can see the construction and engage with Riggs on other designs, some of the problem solving, and why it matters.
Riggs takes the ideas and leaderships skills of her students seriously. When Colonial initially broke ground, it was the students of Colonial Elementary that emceed the proceedings. It is the students’ voices that have helped give the school with its identity to this point and will undoubtedly continue to do so.