New school year, new digs for William Walker Elementary
Fewer occasions are more momentous than a child's first day at school.
As young students filed in to a brand new building at William Walker Elementary School on Southwest Cedar Hills Boulevard, emotions ran the gamut from tears to cheers.
Principal Melissa Murray helped a teacher console a first-grader as she made her rounds through the brand new elementary school Tuesday morning.
Murray said much of the first day of school is getting students acquainted with their new teachers and schools, and in the case of many early grade students, addressing the inevitable separation anxiety.
"It really is just welcoming the students for the year to their school community, but also to their classrooms," Murray said. Starting the school year off in a new campus is bittersweet for Murray and others, who saw the former William Walker site demolished due to asbestos issues and other layout constraints.
The new site has an estimated 450 students, including an incoming group of pre-kindergarteners, but it can hold closer to 750 if enrollment expands in the future.
"I think they're excited," Murray said, watching kids take part in first-day activities and lessons. "I think it brings them joy to be in a new building. We're excited on so many different levels, because it's a beautiful new building, but because we're also home. There's a sense of grounding, knowing it's our home."
While the new school was under construction, William Walker Elementary occupied a building on Northwest 118th Avenue that will eventually open as a new Beaverton middle school.
With the new William Walker completed, it is Arts & Communication Magnet Academy's turn to have classes in the middle school building, since its old building was torn down this summer. The magnet school is expected to reopen in its own brand-new space in fall 2021.
William Walker's school building is entirely new, save for the presence of wooden rounds made from salvaged tree trunks from the former school site before it was demolished.
The new school was built with heightened safety in mind. Visitors to the campus are met with a set of double doors that open to a vestibule— a way of filtering everyone through the front office before they can gain access to the main campus.
Additionally, most of the classrooms are upstairs.
At the end of the 2018 school year, the school board approved $2 million for district-wide upgrades to pay for new locks on classroom doors to allow teachers to lock doors from the inside in the event of an intruder or active shooter situation.
William Walker is the latest school to be rebuilt using 2014 bond money. The $680 million bond measure was the largest in the school district's history. The new elementary campus is also a Title 1 school, meaning it receives federal funding because a large portion of its students are low-income.
"It's trying to focus on the kids that are 200% below the poverty level," Beaverton Superintendent Don Grotting noted. Grotting said the new elementary campus is a source of pride in the community and another successful construction project under the district's belt.
"It comes full circle, and it's so exciting to see these new students walk in to a new learning experience for the first time," the superintendent said. "It accentuates the need in terms of other buildings that need to be torn down and redone."
One of the most notable new spaces is the library. It's bright, airy and inviting, dripping with sunlight and brand new rugs.
"I have a million things I want to do in here," said Sally Bozarth, library media assistant at William Walker.
As they passed through the new space, students lined up to hug Bozarth, many of them remembering her from previous years.
"Some are shy, some don't want to be here, they want to still be at home," Bozarth observed.
That will fade with time, but the joy to be had from the rows of books new and old never will.
"There's nothing like cracking open a book and smelling it for the first time," Bozarth said.
The district expects the return of roughly 41,000 students this year.
Bozarth is excited about a new learning station that allows English learner students to listen to audiobooks in their native language. The school has a robust Spanish-speaking population, which means students will often have a co-learning environment with two teachers, one geared toward assisting students learning English.
Bozarth takes pride in the library space and said she invites teachers to come unwind there, too.
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