What's new? In area schools, plenty

What's new? In area schools, plenty

By now, we trust you've heard that hard hats will soon be standard gear around Champaign Central's growing campus, and that kinder and gentler have replaced suspension and expulsion in the lexicon at Urbana.

But there's plenty more new in store on the local schools scene in 2018-19.

Presenting our third annual list of 100 new this and that across the area.

1. Oh, the things educators will do to inspire kids these days.

That's STACI LINDELOF, in the picture above, surrounded by some of her handiwork at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Elementary. And yes, that's a bathroom stall door she's hovering over — one of 30 throughout the school plastered with motivational messages like: You will move mountains, and Your mistakes do not define you.

What started as a, well, different idea, quickly caught on over the summer, with votes for catchy quotes being cast on Facebook and Pinterest and four volunteers cutting the finished products from vinyl.

Says Lindelof: "While it also made the bathrooms a brighter place, we want our students to know their worth and we feel these little things go a long way in motivating them."

2-4. Debuting on Monticello elementary menus by popular demand: PB&J sandwiches every day at every school — certain to be as big a hit as the new Middletown Prairie Elementary is in Mahomet.

But the school that's sure to pile up the most popularity points with the student body is tiny Christ Lutheran of Buckley. The grim news: The school day will be 55 minutes longer this year. The great news: No more school on Mondays.

5. Just six more days till the little ones at Countryside get to scale the Alexander "Tommy" Yan Adventure Wall. Next Saturday, the eagerly awaited attraction will be dedicated in memory of Tommy, who passed away at 5 months in the summer of 2017 and whose big brother will be a first-grader at the Champaign school this year.

A memorial fund was established in Tommy's name to support projects like the bouldering wall "as a way for students in all grades to celebrate the joy of childhood," says Countryside's Kristin Feddersen.

6-8. A mini ukulele craze appears to be sweeping the area, with the tiny-guitar-looking instrument being introduced this school year at Unity EastUnity West and Heritage elementaries. In Tolono, it will replace the recorder as the first instrument many kids learn to play.

9. It's 60 feet long, 30 feet wide and sure to be the envy of ag students and science teachers across Illinois.

In a matter of weeks, St. Joseph-Ogden High's brand new greenhouse will open its doors to students in a matter of weeks.

"It's something we have talked about wanting to do for quite a few years," says Superintendent Brian Brooks, who notes that the project was paid for entirely with 1 percent sales tax revenue, not property tax dollars.

10-12. New wheels: Tuscola Principal STEVE FISCUS (above) shakes on a new driver's ed van (complete with $599 bonus brake) — a 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan Wagon SXT that has 26,763 miles on it but drives like new; Gifford Grade School's new bus should arrive within a month; and the Blue Ridge High band trailer got an exterior makeover, with an assist from Walker Tire.

13. At Unity High, they're putting the final touches on a new wrestling facility that will be the talk of Tolono.

14. At Danville High, it's tough to miss the new giant Viking mascot etched on two stories of windows outside the school entrance — even for those students in a rush to raid the new Blue Bunny ice cream vending machine.

15. Four years ago, Arcola made area history, becoming the first district around here to splurge for close to 800 new iPads, one for every student. Now comes the sequel, paid for with $430,000 in district working cash funds.

Students in grades 7-12 will each receive iPad Pros with keyboard and pencil ($800 per device) while the K-6 kids get new iPad 6 devices ($300 per).

16-17. Just as Urbana's Yankee Ridge Elementary debuts its spacious addition, Paxton's Clara Peterson Elementary is about to get cracking on its 63,500 square feet of new space, set to debut in 2019-20.

18. The nickname itself won't strike fear into opponents, but the new design of Fisher's football helmets — featuring one bad bunny on the front — might do the trick.

19-22. One need not be fluent in Latin to understand what the new signs around Georgetown's Pine Crest Elementary are all about.

Every student will belong to one of four "houses" this year. There's Persivo, Integritas, Nobilis and Excellencia — get it? P-I-N-E — which translate to perseverance, integrity, nobility and excellence.

Principal Ashley Vaughn explains: "Each house will have their own flag, motto/chant and monthly meeting. The idea is to have student-led groups that will include all students of all ages with a common mission to motivate students to be great leaders and team players, all while motivating students intrinsically rather than extrinsically."

23-27. It's safety first across the area, with seven more schools (including Villa Grove) adding a police presence and a slew of others investing in new security camera systems (Monticello Middle SchoolPotomac Grade School) and more secure entrances (Bement Middle/High School, Salt Fork's elementaries).

28. Think STEM on steroids. That's how Principal Josh Didier describes Project Learn The Way, a grant-funded program in year 2 of 3 at Paxton-Buckley-Loda Junior High, which receives $6,667 a year. Participating schools can choose one course from a wide variety.

PBL's pick: design and modeling, which is described like this: "Students discover the design process and develop an understanding of the influence of creativity and innovation in their lives. They are then challenged and empowered to use and apply what they've learned throughout the unit to design a therapeutic toy for a child who has cerebral palsy."

29-40. If you happened to miss their debut performance early Thursday morning on Park Avenue, fear not: Champaign Central's vaunted drum line will be banging on their brand new instruments again Friday night (at the first game at the renovated Tommy Stewart Field) and Saturday (the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival).

Central's music boosters ponied up the funds to buy five Yamaha marching snare drums, five Yamaha marching bass drums and two sets of Yamaha marching tenor drums, along with carriers, cases and protective covers.

41-42. With 31-year-old windows out and new, tinted replacements in, the music room at A/C-less Tuscola High is bound to be cozier on those steamy September afternoons.

Same goes for Urbana Middle School's band room, which has new chairs and stands for the first time in 28 years.

43-44. Gone but never to be forgotten at GCMS High: legendary coach Jack Cowgill, who is memorialized on a new track and field record board in the main hallway, and new baseball and softball scoreboards, paid for by the booster club, thanks to a donation from Falcons super fan Roy Roemer.

45. Out in Unit 4 cafeterias: Five-compartment lunch trays made of styrofoam. In: ones made of molded fiber, which food services Director Laura Dees notes is "100 percent recycled material and 100 percent compostable."

46. For students and staff at University Primary School, a new cause. "We are actively promoting, protecting, debating and studying human rights — in our school, our campus, our community, our nation and our world," says Ali Lewis, director of the preK-5 school, run by the UI College of Education.

47-56. Faster internet has arrived at all four Tolono schools with the district beefing up its bandwidth.

Among the others making heavy tech investments: DeLand-Weldon (Chromebooks for all students in grades 7-12), Unit 4 high schools (Chromebooks for every student), White Heath Elementary (ditto), Danville Schlarman (smart TVs in main entry and cafeteria) and Oakwood Elementary (1:1 technology).

57. Students at Monticello High have Rick Ridings to thank for the three 65-inchers now on display in the high school cafeteria.

They'll be used for announcements, student presentations, live streaming and cable TV watching.

58. Coming to Carrie Busey Elementary for one week in the spring, when the birds are chirping and the weather's warming: What school librarian Christine Cahill is calling Screen Free Week.

(To those who may need to wean themselves off technology, consider this your eight-month warning — the electronic media-free week runs from April 29 through May 5).

"Don't get me wrong," Cahill says, "I love all the things available on TV, tablets and computers. But this year at Carrie Busey, I am going to encourage students, families and staff to unplug a little and try to live without screens. I will be suggesting alternate activities throughout the year."

59-60. Two noteworthy changes to the Cerro Gordo High handbook:

1) Any student who takes part in extracurricular activities, drives to school or operates power tools in vocational courses is subject to random drug testing.

2) students with A or B grades, fewer than five absences and no disciplinary infractions can opt out of starting the day in homeroom.

61. foo-rack (foo-rak) noun.

Definition: The name of a popular winter training program that originated at Rantoul High. Athletes from a number of sports are split into two groups. They train half the time under track coach Mitch Wilson, working on speed and sprint mechanics, and the other half with football coach TOM HESS (above), focusing on strength training and plyometrics. Halfway through each session, they switch, getting a total body workout.

62. For the percussion section of Westville High's marching band, no more back pain, thanks to the smaller, lighter and brand new bass drums the program invested in.

63. In the works at St. Thomas More: a Virtue Code — "for what it means to be a student at STM," says Principal JASON SCHREDER (left). "We are working on promoting and highlighting the good our students are doing in striving to live virtuously and live out our mission."

64-65. Are you ready for some eight-man football? The sport is set to debut on skinnier fields at Judah Christian, where football's brand new, and Milford/Cissna Park, where they're used to the 11-man variety. But with limited interest among students, Milford Principal Steve Totheroh said, "our school district felt eight-man football was the best option in keeping Friday night lights in our hometown."

66-69. Already a smashing success with students at Barkstall Elementary: the library's new Lego wall. Sure to take off elsewhere shortly: Urbana Uni High's state-of-the-art chemistry lab, ALAH High's newly remodeled biology lab and the enrichment period at Oakwood Junior High, where the planned activities include 3D printing and making shoulder puppets.

70-73. For those Salt Fork elementary students who struggle with math — and didn't we all — help has arrived in the form of a new intervention teaching position for that subject.

Also debuting: an ag program at Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin, a freshman success class at Hoopeston Area High and a Growth Mindset initiative at Tuscola's North Ward Elementary, which Principal Jason Wallace says is designed to "build confidence in students and create a positive outlook on challenges they face."

74-76. When the kids at Ludlow Grade School report for classes Monday, a new playground — installed this weekend in a community volunteer build — will be awaiting them.

Also sprucing up their playgrounds: Champaign St. Matthew (new features: soccer goals, kickball bases and a climbing dome) and Bement (used grant money to cover the cost of new equipment, including one handicap-accessible piece).

77. For curriculum creativity, Academy High is in a league of its own. Among the new topics being taught in Year 2 at the private Champaign school: survival literature, augmented reality, virtual reality, renewable energy, machine learning, epistemology and circuit training.

78-80. Robotics has joined the official lineup of activities at PBL High, while cross country is now an official sport at both Heritage Junior High and Rantoul St. Malachy.

81. At Urbana schools, a new hashtag: #ProudofU.

Explains new middle school Principal JOE WIEMELT (left): "We are working to transform the school culture and climate into one that is engaging and built upon high expectations, school pride and a commitment to equity. Over the course of the year, we'll be updating the building with some beautification projects to emphasize our school pride."

82-84. The former Franklin Middle School has a new digital marquee to go with its new name (Franklin STEAM Academy).

Also making good first impressions with new signs greeting guests: Arthur Christian (outside) and Armstrong Township High (inside).

85. For students at Fisher High, a break from regular programming.

On the five days that they're let out at 11:30 a.m., they can spend the morning taking new student professional development courses you won't find in the daily curriculum.

Among them: landscaping, owning a car, tennis lessons, motivational murals, art appreciation, school of rock, mindfulness training, college tours and escape rooms.

86-91. For GCMS' reigning Class 2A state football champs: snazzy new unies. And they're not alone: Champaign Central's cheerleaders, Prairieview-Ogden Junior High's baseball and track teams and both Arcola High basketball squads will be among the area's other squads sporting fresh, new looks.

92. New at Urbana's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, a schoolwide slogan — Paying It Forward.

"Like MLK stated, 'Everybody can be great because anybody can serve,'" says Principal Christina Cail-Lewandowski. "We are change makers, design thinkers and future leaders" who'll view everything they do through a racial equity lens.

93-99. It's the little things: snazzy red lockers at Heritage High; new toilets, sinks and urinals throughout the Rantoul City Schools district; new water fountains at Salt Fork South Elementary and Junior High; a new ball system at Oakwood High; a new gaga ball pit at Campus Middle School for Girls; a new gym floor at Blue Ridge Junior High; and boxes upon boxes of new books, donated to the library at Georgetown's Mary Miller Junior High.

100. For kitchen workers in Danville public schools, new threads. Every payday Friday, you'll find many of them dressed in black T-shirts bearing this powerful message:

PEACE. LOVE. LUNCH.

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