School of Dreams: Whiteman students settle in |

School of Dreams: Whiteman students settle in

— When the students at the Lowell Whiteman Primary school drew dream schools, they included a hot tub on the roof, a bungee jump, stables, an observatory, a spiral slide and a race track.

While the new Lowell Whiteman Primary School is certainly not Elitch Gardens, it does include some of the simpler, yet no less important items the students asked for, like drinking fountains, a beautiful library and a skylight.

“They used the realistic ones,” student Nick Pruett said about the design for the new school.

Whiteman Primary moved from its old digs on Eighth Street to spacious new ones just a few blocks away on Oak Street. Classes started on April 3 after a posse of parents and staff spent two weeks getting things in order.

While the old space was cramped students had to turn sideways when they passed someone in the hall it was home. Making a new home took some concerted effort, but it was an effort that was worth it, according to head of school Nancy Spillane.

“I think, for me, the best part (of the new school) is the kids walking around the school and remembering ‘We designed this. We asked for this bathroom, we wanted these drinking fountains. The skylight was my idea,'” Spillane said.

While some schools rave about their state-of-the-art facilities, Whiteman students are rejoicing about the basics: drinking fountains and separate bathrooms for boys and girls.

“We were so shocked when we had separate bathrooms,” student Rachele Rothe said.

There are small touches everywhere, from the carved leaves and owls on the front door to the picture postcard-sized windows in the walls. The entryway is open and the beginnings of the donor wall are already in place. Artist M.B. Warner is creating a mural and collage in the nook, that also will include old books with names of donors.

The stairway up to the second floor is lined with built-in bookshelves, with benches halfway up for a little reading break. It leads to the library, which was a priority, Spillane said.

“The kids wanted the library to be the most beautiful place in the school,” she said.

It is in the corner of the building with a high ceiling and is painted sea blue and houses the now-laminated student pictures of their dream schools. A waterfall donated by one of the classes hangs on one wall and the door just to the left of the fountain leads to the Grandma Rita reading room.

Rita Kelly has been reading to students every Thursday for years and this room, equipped with a rocking chair and a hand-loomed rug, will be dedicated to her on graduation.

The students are the craftsmen of the some of the finishing touches, like the hand-made cushions for the benches, the stained glass that will be in some of the windows and the mural of Columbine and Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” that will adorn Spillane’s office.

The hallways are wider, which makes chatting to friends easier. They are modern, clean colors like ice blue and light yellow and there is no institutional cinder block in sight. The upstairs hall has gallery lighting from one end to the other, letting natural light spill in. Spillane said it does seem like no one’s around sometimes.

“I feel like I missed a field trip some days,” she said.

The ceilings have visible wooden slats and she said they wanted an old school house feel. The Whiteman tradition of tea is still intact, with students and staff meeting three times a week to hear student presentations, gently sip tea and demonstrate their good manners. While this took place in a classroom before, it is now in the community room, which will be used by St. Paul’s Church next door. The whole building, in fact, will be used by the parish for Sunday school.

This unique relationship was forged by Spillane and Father David Henderson, both of whom realized that collaboration would maximize the space and financial resources of both entities. St. Paul’s is building a new church and Whiteman got a new school that the parish can use freely for activities. Spillane is glad to share the space.

“They helped create it,” she said.

A building is important, but like every school, the people and spirit inside are at its heart. Students walked through the halls, while parents talked to staffer Debbie Gooding and Spillane handed out jelly beans to the younger students in her office, just like usual for Whiteman.

“I thought it was going to be a different school with all the extra space and a brand new school would be sterile, but the school itself has not changed the slightest,” teacher Michael Ruzicka said.

Some habits die hard, though, despite the wide halls and extra cafeteria tables.

“We still crowd together and there’s a big empty room,” student Jessie Smith said.

To reach Jennifer Bartlett call 871-4204 or e-mail

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