By Jennifer Tuohy, Island Eye News Editor
Photos by Steve Rosamilia
Sitting on Hokki stools, Kaitlyn Fowler and Steven Black work on their first journal entry of the school year. These students, part of Ms. Warner’s first grade class, are drawing a picture to illustrate an event from their first week in their new school and writing a sentence describing that activity.
Upstairs, Mrs. Neal’s 5th grade class swarms the hallway, armed with iPads and tasked with photographing elements of the new building (an assignment that quickly descends into a “selfie fest”—ask your grandkids).
In the cafeteria, children enjoy grilled chicken sandwiches on whole grain bread, with a side of southern slaw and views of the Atlantic Ocean. School is in session.
Of course there are still a few kinks to iron out since Sullivan’s Island Elementary School opened the doors to its brand new 74,000 square foot building on Monday, August 18, 2014. Chief among these is the issue of keys that take a good minute or two to open doors (which are locked all day due to safety regulations). But beyond that low-tech inconvenience, the temporary lack of a playground and the presence of stuffed rather than live stingrays in the much vaunted touch tanks, SIES is up and running relatively smoothly, much to the astonishment of many.
“I love my new school,” says 3rd grader Hailey. “I love everything about it.” A sentiment echoed by her fellow students, teachers and the principal, Susan King.
As a new building, the school is being used to try out a lot of the Charleston County School District’s pilot programs. Such advantages include a 1 to 1 iPad program (although at present its 6 iPads to a class, but that will increase over time), a special healthy lunch pilot program and Hokki chairs for all students in Kindergarten through 2nd grade.
A specially designed stool, a Hokki is backless with a curved bottom, forcing students to sit upright, strengthening their core while allowing them to wiggle and move their bodies as they sit. The key benefit of this is that the children can be in constant motion while still focusing on the work in front of them. All schools in the district have access to a couple of these stools per class, but SIES is the only one to have them available for all students.
Outside the school there is still quite a bit of work to do, the playground isn’t up and running yet and the 500 students are currently enjoying recess indoors.
The access to the beach hasn’t been finished and the outdoor classroom, situated under the school, is a ways from completion. There is also some tweaking needed to the school pickup system.
“Arrival on the first day was longer than expected at pick up,” Sullivan’s Island Police Chief Danny Howard said. “We’ve since made a few changes. It was the first day so the kids didn’t know what to do.
“The original plan was to have everybody come in from Station 20, but that caused a back-up down Middle Street. So we’ve 1/2, which worked much better. We cut 15 minutes off the loadup time on the second day—so we’re getting it.”
Due to state regulations the first, and only, bus stop on the island is 1.5 miles away from the school. The idea is to encourage more children to walk and bike to school, however with the sweltering weather the island has been enjoying, this led to far more cars driving to school that will likely be usual going forward.
Despite the teething problems of any new building, Principal King says Sullivan’s Island Elementary School is up and running successfully.
“This is a tree we can feel proud of planting for future generations,” Loren Ziff, SIES School Improvement Council chair said.
The school will be opened for a special community walkthrough Saturday, September 27 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.