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Students make mid-term move to Laurel-Hill Primary.
Mount Pleasant school helps ease crowding at Pinckney Elementary

The Post and Courier

MOUNT PLEASANT - For some Charleston County students returning to classes Tuesday, it felt like the first day of school.

That was especially true at Laurel Hill Primary, the new kindergarten through second-grade school in the Park West subdivision. The new school's 792 students came from neighboring Charles Pinckney Elementary School, which now serves third- through fifth-grade students

School leaders decided to add the $18.1 million primary school to the district's 2000-04 building program in spring 2002 to relieve overcrowding at Pinckney. This year, Pinckney had nearly 1,500 students, the largest elementary enrollment in the district, and 21 mobile units housing two classrooms each. All of Pinckney's third through fifth grades were housed in mobile units, and the lower grades were inside its building.

Laurel Hill is the largest elementary school in the district, and it has the capacity for about 850 students.

It's unusual for new schools to open mid-year, and school officials attribute the move's success to hard-working teachers and parent and community volunteers.

"We couldn't have done it without them," said Laurel Hill Principal Michael Antonelli.

Construction on Laurel Hill, named after a plantation that once included the school site, finished on schedule in October. New furniture and equipment were moved in during the following weeks, but teachers couldn't start setting up their rooms until Dec. 10

On their own time, teachers stayed hours after school and returned on weekends to set up their rooms. Many worked on the move through the school district's winter break. They received a two-day stipend for the extra work, but Antonelli said he couldn't imagine anyone doing the work in less than four days.

Claudia McKellar, who teaches kindergarten, said teachers did what they had to do to get their rooms the way they wanted. She said having fewer students at Laurel Hill, which is about the same size as Pinckney, made the school feel bigger, an observation shared by many others.

"It was exciting to get to a place where we had more space," she said.

Jill Powell, mother of a Laurel Hill kindergartner, volunteered to help set up a classroom during the winter break. She didn't mind the mid-year move because of the benefits accompanying it, such as more space for students, she said.

"I think it will help them learn, not being so on top of each other," she said.

The walls in many classrooms were filled with posters and decorations, and artwork lined some hallways. Signs in the hallway directed students to teachers' rooms, and the front office had school maps for parents.

Knowing the oldest child at Laurel Hill Primary would be 8 years old, district leaders adjusted their plans to fit the needs of younger children. The height of school equipment, such as bookshelves and tack strips, was lowered.

The school is one level so that it can be evacuated within one minute, said Bill Lewis, director of the school district's building program.

Every classroom has an emergency exit door rather than a window so children could leave the room more easily, he said.

The school takes advantage of natural light because every classroom has windows and there are no interior classrooms, Lewis said. The building also has automatic lights.

Construction of the school finished under budget, but Lewis said he wasn't sure by how much.


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