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Students at Bennett and Phoenicia Elementary Schools Participate in District Planning

Students at Bennett and Phoenicia Elementary Schools Participate in District Planning

Parents, teachers, administrators—and especially students—at the Onteora Central School District have been preparing for the upcoming changes in building configurations that will take place next year with the closing of Phoenicia Elementary School and the expansion of Onteora Middle School to include Grades 6-8. With two student-driven projects well in motion, the enthusiasm is growing through a nurturing and inclusive approach.

All students who are transitioning to a new school building next year have been involved in the decision-making process for newly planned murals to be created at Bennett Elementary School and Onteora Middle School. In addition, current Grade K-3 students at Phoenicia Elementary School have helped select a brand-new playground for Bennett Elementary, which will be their new school. 

“We want to support and empower our students during this transition,” said Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Stephanie Laffin, “and giving those students who are moving to new schools several choices and making them a part of the process has fostered a sense of excitement for the future.”

Earlier this winter, the District consulted with Parkitects, a company based in Central New York, to begin planning an additional playground structure at Bennett Elementary, designed specifically for the new K-3 students. Three different design possibilities were shared with Grade 4 teachers at Bennett and all of Phoenicia Elementary’s current K-3 students. The Bennett students shared their input, and the students at Phoenicia then voted on which design they preferred. 

The new structure is accessible for all, incorporates sensory elements into its design, and is geared especially toward their age group. Utilizing the democratic process in making this decision was an important part of putting students in the forefront of the planning process, said Ms. Laffin, adding, “Students have a sense of control in planning for their future.” Construction of the new playground is slated for this spring. 

In addition, in January, every student who will be moving to a new school building next school year had the opportunity to meet with popular regional artist Joe Pimental to discuss potential designs for murals. At Bennett Elementary School, there will be two new murals, one by the playground outside, which will feature the District's mascot and local bird, the eagle, and another inside by the gymnasium. Students in Kindergarten through Grade 3 at Phoenicia Elementary School, under the direction of Art teacher Danielle Payette, were given word clusters created by a team from Phoenicia to contemplate and present visually. These included “Bravery, Strength, and Courage” and “Strength, Beauty, and Wisdom.” Mr. Pimental will incorporate the students’ drawings into a blueprint for the murals, and the children will help with the mural painting, too!

“We have been talking with the students about how we will all be moving together to a new school next year,” said Phoenicia Principal Elizabeth Fallo. “They are used to seeing murals in their environment here, and they are looking forward to creating one in their new building.”

“It helps give students a sense of ownership in their new surroundings. We want our students to be excited about the move to their new building next year,” Ms. Fallo added. 

Grade 3 student Eva Vergara chose to draw a dinosaur to represent courage. “If you ride a dinosaur, you need courage,” she explained. Grade 3 student Hayla Scism, as well as Kindergarten student Charlie Benjamin, chose to draw lions as a symbol of strength, bravery, and courage. “A lion must be both brave and strong,” said Hayla. “He looks out for everyone because he is the protector of his pride.” Jade Ryan, a Grade 2 student, decided to incorporate images inspired by her current school, the Onteora school district, and our region’s natural environment. She drew a logo that resembled one of the Onteora logos, adding design elements that resemble the mountains and streams that surround Phoenicia Elementary School. In addition, she drew a beautiful eagle, which she said demonstrated strength. 

At Bennett Elementary School, students in Grades 5 and 6 examined what the concepts of “Community, Inspire, Explore, Imagination, Believe, Friendship, Create, Unity, and Perseverance” mean to them and rendered their ideas into drawings that will be incorporated into the mural slated for the expanded Grade 6-Grade 8 Middle School. Fifth and sixth grade students discussed the mural in Art class at Bennett and collaborated on the list of words. Middle School faculty also had input.

Incoming Middle School students also showcased their unique visions. Grade 5 student Odin Wright drew a hopeful message that depicted a situation of bullying that unexpectedly turned into friendship. “They got to know each other and became friends,” he said. His drawing also included the words, “You never know who will be your next friend.” Grade 6 student Kahlan Liverani’s drawing conveyed messages of “community” and “welcoming,” she explained. Kahlan drew a large colorfully accented heart, which depicted different types of people and preferences. The heart had a Band-Aid, representing the fact that “A lot of people struggle with depression and anxiety, but there is hope,” she said. “There are people who can help.”

“We are so excited for the students to be creating these new features in the buildings that will provide them with ownership of the space where they are going to be learning and growing,” said Superintendent Victoria McLaren. 

Phoenicia Elementary Grade 2 student Jade Ryan holds up the design she created of an eagle flying over the region’s mountain range, representing “Bravery, Strength, and Courage.” Her drawing, as well as those of her classmates, will be utilized by local artist Joe Pimental for a mural slated for Bennett Elementary School, where all Phoenicia students will be attending next school year.

Bennett Elementary Grade 5 student Odin Wright holds up his design, which depicts a bullying situation that turned into friendship. He and other Grade 5 and 6 students, who are moving into the expanded Middle School next school year, will be participating in painting a mural there this spring with local muralist and teaching artist Joe Pimental. 

Bennett Elementary School Grade 5 student Eva Harrisfeld shows off her design ideas depicting concepts like “Unity,” “Friendship,” “Explore,” and “Imagination.” She and other Grade 5 and 6 students, who are moving into the expanded Middle School next school year, will be participating in painting a mural there this spring with local muralist and teaching artist Joe Pimental. 

Bennett Elementary School Grade 6 student Khalan Liverani shows off a design idea she made for a mural she and other Grade 5 and 6 students will be working on with local muralist and teaching artist Joe Pimental this spring at the Middle School. Her image, of a mended heart, conveys the message to students that there are always people who can help.

Phoenicia Elementary Grade 3 student Hayla Scism shows off the design she created of a lion, which represents “Strength, Bravery, and Courage.” Her drawing, as well as those of her classmates, will be utilized by local muralist and teaching artist Joe Pimental for a mural slated for Bennett Elementary School, where all Phoenicia students will be attending next school year.