June 19, 2014 | Vol. 118 -- No. 9

Everything was a first at Snowdon Elementary

By many accounts, the first year of operation for the Cheney School District's newest educational facility was a rousing success.

John McCallum
Students at Snowdon Elementary School celebrated the end of the school\'s first year with games and a barbecue was part a field day called "Jolly Bead Day." Past field days had students competing to earn jelly beans, but with the district\'s emphasis on healthy eating, Snowdown principal Shawna Fraser said they substituted beads for the candy, with students getting to create colorful bracelets or necklaces with their beads.

Opening last September at a cost of $13.5 million, Snowdon Elementary School near the Fairways housing development wrapped up its first year with field day fun and games June 6.

Watching the students, ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade bound happily about the various obstacle courses and skill games, one would never suspect that a year ago, all of them were in different facilities and some were miles away in Airway Heights.

If there was any angst about going to a new school, it was likely quickly overcome by the fact that Snowdon is new, modern and has a roomy feeling. It was also helped out by a district that tried its best to ease the transition by moving teachers along with students from other buildings such as Windsor and Betz in Cheney and Sunset in Airway Heights.

"Coming from different buildings, we came together as a team and built this school from the ground up," second-grade teacher Cherise Eggett, who taught at Windsor last year, said. "Establishing new rules and routines was a challenge, but we figured it out."

Another of Snowdon's staff who was in a different location last year was principal Shawna Fraser. Fraser in fact was in two locations, splitting assistant principal duties between Windsor and Sunset and getting to know many of the students, their families and staff at both buildings, students and staff that transitioned to Snowdon.

Fraser was involved along with other district officials and community members in the design and outfitting of Snowdon, and began meeting with staff slated to move last spring. A lot of that was schedule planning, devising daily routines for students, but some was also getting to know each other in preparation to act as a unit once September came.

"It just felt like we were never going to get to opening day," Fraser said.

Physically, Snowden Elementary has many of the same features incorporated into the two new middle schools, with "smartboards' in each classroom, audio/video projection systems, a computer lab and energy saving lighting control systems.

There are four learning "pods," two in each wing. The pods are quiet areas where students can read or which teachers can use for more focused instruction.

The preschool and kindergarten rooms each have their own restroom facilities. There are two resource rooms in each wing and two workrooms per wing, keeping teachers closer to their classes.

The gym has a similar floor, sound and projection systems as the middle schools, as well as features that help deaden noise. There is a project room equipped with refrigerator, dishwasher and oven as well as classroom equipment.

At the beginning of the school year there were two empty classrooms in the third-fifth grade wing to accommodate growth. As classes wrapped up last week, those two classrooms had been filled.

According to district enrollment information, Snowdon opened with 378 students and grew virtually every month, hitting a high of 403 in April and dropping to 400 in May. Roughly a third came from Sunset, where parents expressed disappointment when the district changed the school boundaries in order to shift students to Snowdon.

"The only thing that was different was the bus," a parent of a Snowdon second-grader said, asking her name be withheld. "His bus ride is a lot longer compared to what it was at Sunset."

But that fact was overcome by many aspects of the facility named after former Cheney Superintendent, Dr. Phil Snowdon. One of those was a cafeteria capable of handling 150 students for meals, and many if not more comfortably for events.

"When they have a concert or something where the parents are all invited, they have enough room for the parents to come and sit down," the Airway Heights woman said.

"I got to see the teacher I really wanted," second-grader Clayton Wood said, referring to second/third-grade teacher Lin Frederick. While at Windsor, Wood was hoping he would end up in Frederick's class, and was excited when he found out he would, but at a new school.

"They (school district) brought over a good variety, kind of the best teachers from Windsor and Betz," his mother Nici Wood said. "They did a great job. The facilities are amazing. The building they put up is just fantastic."

Everyone agreed the efforts put in by the district and Snowdon staff helped create a feeling of community identity with the new facility. For Fraser, the highlight came when the school's new mascot "Pounce" the cougar was introduced at an assembly.

Physical education instructor Brenda Chloe wrote a skit centered on the "Twas the night before Christmas..." story while staff members dressed as reindeer pulled a red wagon into the room with a large, gift-wrapped package on it. As the reindeer began to open the package, Pounce bounced out to the delight of the students.

Everything that was done at Snowdon was done for the first time, Fraser said. Concerts were packed with parents and family, events such as the PTO carnival were well attended while others like the year-ending field "Jolly Bead Day" were enhanced by the participation of community members.

"I don't think you could tell who came from where," Fraser said. "We are Snowdon."

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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