OPERATION: OCCUPY

? Goessel junior and senior high students move into newly completed classroom space after 19 months of temporary spaces.

Goessel eight-grader Nathaniel Impson signals ?victory? for junior and senior high students who moved into three newly completed classroom areas for the first time Tuesday, Jan. 27. Then again, he may be saluting the number of pizza slices Loyd Builders provided for him and each of his fellow students lunch that day. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press

Goessel junior and senior high students?plus administrators, teachers and staff?celebrated the end of their 19-month exodus from permanent classroom space Jan. 27 with a pizza lunch and a whole lot of smiles.

The free pizza came courtesy of Loyd Builders, the contractors for the district?s $3.3 million effort to provide new classroom space for three key educational disciplines: science, agriculture education, and family and consumer science.

?Our students and staff, while all very eager, have been very patient while these new rooms were being completed,? said John Fast, superintendent and elementary school principal. ?We knew that better arrangements were on the way, and knowing that it will get better helps a person be patient.?

The bond issue also provided new spaces for art classes and the weight room, which became occupied much earlier this fall. The elementary school now has a storm shelter.

?In addition, many of our special-education staff will have new space to work with, including an area for privacy for evaluation and testing,? Fast said.

?These areas include space for social work, psychologist, vision services for the blind, auditory services for deaf, occupational therapy and more.?

Chad Henson (left), project superintendent from Loyd Builders, providers of 54 pizzas for students, faculty and staff, watches as school board members Darcy Nickel. James Wiens and Dan Miller, president, dish out slices to students and staff.<p><p>Don Ratzlaff / Free Press

Make-do environments

Feeling the impact most of all were the three teachers who have been conducting class in make-do environments during the construction work.

?Ever since they started this project, I?ve been super excited to get the new classroom,? said Donna O?Neill, who teaches science for students in grades eight through 12.

?Since the beginning of this school year, I haven?t even been in a science room,? she added. ?I?ve been in a modified computer lab, so I didn?t even have sinks for the last four months. It was just wonderful to finally be in here.

?This year has been stressful. It feels like we?ve been waiting forever.?

Even before the building project was conceptualized, Zana Manche taught ag education and led the FFA program in a divided and outdated space.

?It was a Morton building they added on and had a classroom in there,? she said. ?But we had to move everything out of that side so it could be demolished about a year ago.

?That was kind of when we started consolidating everything into about half of a shop. My classroom got put into an old computer lab, so every day was kind of…interesting, I guess you could say.?

Manche said during construction teaching conditions were challenging.

?We had to do lot of different work with electrical things and dealing with things like having smaller space?and we couldn?t do as many lab activities because we didn?t have the ability to do that.

?It took a lot of creativity on my end to try and keep kids interested,? Manche added.

Imagine teaching cooking classes in a space with only two electrical outlets, no appliances, no running water, carpet on the floor and frequent blown fuses.

Beth Ratzloff, in her first year as the family and consumer science teacher, said innovation was her only option.

?I used crock pots, pressure cookers and a griddle,? she said about her cooking classes. ?Then we went to the church across the street and used the church for a while.?

Ratzloff said learning was stressful for students under those conditions.

?We had no room,? she said. ?The simplist tasks took them longer because they had to go to a different room, or even a different building.?

Part of the planning

The teachers in each of those three areas were part of a committee that helped plan their new teaching environment. Ratzloff had yet to arrive, but she?s grateful for the results of their work.

?I have dishwashers now and sinks?I don?t have to run to the bathroom or the water fountain to fill stuff up and drain it,? she said. ?We have much more room, and just technology galore. We?re not bumping into each other.?

O?Neill and Manche were part of the planning group.

?That was tremendously empowering, but also a nerve-wracking time,? Manche said about that assignment. ?When you?re designing something that will outlive you and your students, you don?t want to screw up.?

Not only are the two teachers pleased with the final product, but their students seem to be, too.

?They?re just so excited,? O?Neill said. ?There were so many labs they had to miss this year, it?s been really unfortunate. I?m glad to be in here now.?

She said having more room and a top-notch ventilation system will greatly increase the learning opportunities she can offer her students.

?I?ve been wanting to do more labs generating gases,? O?Neill cited as an example. ?It?s hard to do, especially with my class sizes getting bigger. Having enough space for everybody to do labs, and having the right ventilation, is a huge thing.

?In my other room, the lab worked fine when you had six to eight kids in chemistry, but I tried it again with 15 and all of a sudden we couldn?t breathe.?

The new ventilation system completes six air exchanges every 10 minutes?and includes an emergency ventilation feature.

?It?s awesome,? O?Neill said.

Manche said her new teaching area is a vast improvement on the old one.

?We were still in the works of getting everything situated, so the kids have been pretty flexible with moving?and they?ve been helping out with that, which takes some pressure off myself and the other teachers,? she said.

?We?re offering so many more opportunities for our students to excel in the classroom and do live activities out in our shop, which we were not able to provide in our old facility.

?That kind of pushes me as a teacher to learn new things and provide new lab opportunities, so that students are as prepared as they can be when they graduate.?

Community support

Manche expressed her appreciation for the way the Goessel community responded to the bond issue when it came up for a vote.

The measure passed with 96 percent approval.

?It was awesome to have the community support we had,? she had. ?To have an approval rating that we had was phenomenal. The community recognizes the need and will support you.

?It?s a dream that a lot of teachers never had the opportunity to have.?

Fast echoed Manche?s sentiment.

?It is very satisfying to see the students and staff using the new space,? he said. ?Most of all, it makes me extremely thankful for the community supporting the improvements for our students. They should feel very happy for what has been accomplished.?

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