Teachers work in portables, renovated spaces
Tonganoxie art teacher Shirley Welch isn't complaining about her classroom.
That's because she's glad to have a classroom.
For several years, the school's crowded conditions posed a challenge for Welch. When another classroom was assigned to her art room, Welch was given a small storage room off the cafeteria and a cart on which to carry her supplies to some 800 students in more than 30 different classrooms.
The elementary school's growing enrollment prompted the need to use Welch's classroom as a traditional class, rather than for art.
In fact, in the past couple of years, Tonganoxie Elementary School has been ranked one of the largest grade schools in Kansas. On Sept. 20 of this school year, the date official enrollment counts are taken to determine state aid, the grade school's enrollment was 820, up 33 from a year ago.
Despite the inconvenience of carting her art supplies from room to room, Welch said the situation didn't lead her to look for another career.
"I loved teaching," Welch said. "We just needed another classroom."
Welch, and a half-dozen other teachers at Tonganoxie Elementary School meet with their students in classrooms outside of the main building.
Two of the classrooms were added a year ago when the school district bought a modular unit from a nearby town. This year, another two classrooms were added when the school remodeled two-thirds of a maintenance shed, turning it into two classrooms.
"This is wonderful," Welch said of her bright classroom in one of the modular units. "As small as it is, this is wonderful."
Welch, and two other teachers interviewed Friday -- all of whom have classes in buildings outside the main school -- are among those who hope the Nov. 2 bond issue for school construction passes.
"We are just at the maximum," Welch said. "Not just for art -- we're at the maximum everywhere -- the library, the lunchroom the computer lab."
She paused, then quietly said she doesn't know what the district will do if the bond issue doesn't pass. "There's just no place left to go," she said.
Third grade teacher Chris Baska said since moving into an exterior classroom this year she's felt more isolated from the rest of the staff.
But even so, she likes her work.
"I love the kids and I love my community, and I'm not going to leave," Baska said, smiling. "But everyone has their challenges out here."
For instance, Baska mentioned Thursday's rains.
"We were wet all day," she said, explaining that any time her students went to the main building for lunch, physical education, computer lab or anything else inside the main building, they walked through rain. The school has umbrellas for the students, but sometimes even those don't keep them dry.
And, security is always an issue.
A fear, Baska said, is that a student will exit the main building at a time when the rest of the class is in the main building, and will be locked outside.
"We've talked about what to do if that happens," Baska said. "But it's still a big fear of mine."
And, traveling from building to building takes time.
"I have to start out five minutes early to go anywhere," Baska said.
Cheta Mark is OK with her new classroom that's located in a building that formerly served as the school's maintenance shop.
That's partly because of the workmanship, she said.
"When they built these classrooms they built them to be as equal as possible," Mark said. "To make an equal learning environment for the kids."
However, she noted, the two classrooms in the Quonset hut are smaller than the classrooms in the main building. This means there's less room to store items -- both for her and for her students.
"We have special equipment, the student chairs have baskets underneath for the kids to put their books in since they don't have cubbyhole space like they do in the main building," said Mark, who has taught at the school for 30 years.
Like Baska, Mark said her students spend more time moving from one building to another.
"Everything is impacted by the fact that we're not in the main building," Mark said. "I think probably the biggest impact of all is on instructional time. ... It takes longer to get to the library, it takes longer to get to lunch. That may not sound like much, maybe a minute or two, but over the course of a year that adds up."
And, security is a concern for her, too.
"We have to be more keenly aware of keeping our doors locked, or of not having students being left outside without a key," Mark said.
Like the other teachers interviewed, Mark's hoping the Nov. 2 bond issue passes.
"I think there are some times that the facilities hold us back," Mark said. "I think the kids in Tonganoxie still get a good education, but I think the facilities do hold us back from providing an exceptional education."
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