A new year, new building, new era: Taft Elementary opens its doors

Taft Elementary is the first of 15 city schools to be rebuilt or renovated.
YOUNGSTOWN -- With wide eyes, bright smiles, hugs for familiar teachers and a few tears brought on by first-day-of-school jitters, pupils flocked into the new Taft Elementary School and ushered in a new era for Youngstown city schools.
"It's lovely. It's beautiful," said Genene Green Stanford as she brought her children to school.
"It's good," her son, Anthony, 10, a fourth-grader, said with a shy smile. Mikaela, 7, a first-grader, just shrugged when asked what she thought of the new place.
The 59,000-square-foot building on Avondale Avenue on the South Side is the first part to be completed of a $200 million districtwide project to renovate or rebuild 15 schools in the city. The second building, Harding Elementary on the North Side, had construction delays, and will open to classes in October.
"I love it. I just wish they put it up to sixth grade," said Stacey Hughes as she took her son Anthony to fourth grade. His brother, a sixth-grader, attends a gifted program at another school.
Combines pupils
The new Taft, which houses kindergarten to fourth grade, combines pupils from the former Taft Elementary and Bennett Elementary schools. The fifth and sixth grades from the two schools are now at Williamson Elementary.
Literacy coordinator Laura Sullivan was one of several teachers and administrators greeting pupils at the front door.
"From the looks of the children, it's going to be real nice," she said, noting that the parents were enthusiastic too. "It's going to bring the community into the school."
Many parents, including Angelina Cuevas, had come to see the school before the first day.
"So far I like it. It's nice," Cuevas said as she and her three daughters entered. Alexis, 7, hugged a teacher as her sister, Diamond, 6, watched. It was the first day of kindergarten for their sister Christal, 5.
Mothers, fathers, grandparents and other family members were snapping pictures or making videos and helping pupils follow color-coded floor tiles to their classrooms. Each wing has a color of its own with the doors, floor tile and walls matching, explained Principal Michael Schubert. For example, the office is in the red hall, and kindergarten classrooms are in the purple one.
Teacher Patty O'Renic gathered pupils into a group in her kindergarten classroom as several parents watched.
"Cool," one boy said as she pointed out the wooden slots for book bags that line one wall of the spacious classroom.
Music specialist Denise Simon said she believes the up-to-date facility exceeds that of the suburban schools. "We feel we're reaching the 2010 expectations," she said, referring to the Youngstown community-wide plan.
Still registering
Schubert said pupils were still registering late Tuesday morning, but there should be about 440 pupils. The school has a capacity of 485 pupils. Construction costs were $8.5 million.
An open house for the community and families will be held in mid-September.

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