After four months of repairs, CAES opens to a new year

Kindergarten teacher Niki Olesky preps her room the day before CAES opens. Photo by Cynthia Prairie.

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Four months after Chester-Andover Elementary School was set to welcome its 240 pupils in the warm weather following summer vacation, they instead embraced the children with warm welcomes beneath a cloudy, snowy sky.

ON THE COVER: 3rd Grade teacher Laurie Birmingham gets her classroom at CAES ready for her students.

It was Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019 instead of Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. But students, teachers and parents seemed relieved, if not overly happy to be back to their home turf.

Teacher Laurie Birmingham puts up posters in her CAES classroom as she readies for the school to reopen. Photo by Cynthia Prairie.

As the elementary school’s electrical and water systems were being repaired following water damage just before the school was set to open in August, the school system had to find a temporary home for pupils.

Grades 1 through 6 were accommodated by Green Mountain High, and the kindergartners were hosted by the Chester Baptist Church. However, mold was detected and that forced  the school system to find a new home for the kindergartners.

So the entire school spent the past months hosted by their older peers at Green Mountain High School, which moved classes, altered spaces and created accommodations for classrooms of kindergartners through Grade 6.

‘A community building experience’

By all accounts, the combined school was a fine experience for the students, if not more tiring for the little ones, who found themselves walking up and down stairs and through a much larger building to get to the cafeteria and the gym.

Cars of kids and parents line up outside of CAES on Thursday, Jan. 3, ‘the first day of school.’ Photo by Shawn Cunningham.

As she put the finishing touches on her class at Chester-Andover on Wednesday, Jan. 2, Niki Olesky, a 1st year kindergarten teacher, called the high school students “amazing … as far as community building, it was wonderful. My kids seemed unfazed.”

Olesky said her pupils will miss the high schoolers and grade 3 teacher Lauie Birmingham agreed, saying that the middle and high school students “took the young ones under their wings.”

The teachers, meanwhile, had to make do with what little space could be found and work to make everyone comfortable enough for learning. “I felt sorry for the high school teachers because we took their space away. The library was full of classrooms. We really invaded their space,” said Birmingham.

And Birmingham, who teaches a class of 18, found workarounds: “We did a lot of stuff outside. It could be loud inside, so we took advantage of the forest” and the paths surrounding the high school.

For the kindergartners and several in higher grades at CAES, Thursday would be their first time in their elementary school.

“Many of the children have never been in the building, like all the kindergartners,” said Principal Katherine Fogg. “And we have a lot of new students – more every year.”

Vincent Buckholz walks his daughters Ava and Clara to class on the first day of school at CAES. Photo by Shawn Cunningham.

Parent Vincent Buckholz brought his daughters Clara and Ava to their first day at CAES.  “We just moved to Chester and the people here are phenomenal, so helpful.”

As each student arrived on Thursday  – by bus, with parents or on foot – they checked in and headed out to the playground, but not before being greeted by Fogg.

“Welcome back,” said Fogg to student after student and then to one girl, “Did you get a new hat for Christmas?”

“We’re going to start off with a normal kind of day,” said Fogg.”We won’t have an assembly or anything.”

Getting back to CAES

Casey Miller and daughter Elli arrive. ‘We’re excited,’ says Miller. ‘She’s happy to be back.’ Photo by Shawn Cunningham

Furniture for the classrooms was moved back to the Main Street building over the Christmas break, while teachers spent their regularly scheduled “in service” day setting up the classrooms that had been ready back in August.

Most parents seeing their children into school told the same story.

The kids were happy to be back, even excited. Back outside, they clambered over their new playground equipment or gathered in groups to catch up.

Then, as 8 a.m. approached, they lined up to go into their “first” day at school.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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