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Adapting well to a year of change

Deep into homework, projects, book reports and four-square games at recess, students in the Central Kitsap School District are finally settled into their new school homes.

Teachers and administrators are proving they have adapted despite the changes they had to make in response to the closures of Seabeck and Tracyton elementary schools last year.

“Getting to know the staff at PineCrest has really been like moving from one family to another,” said Connie Gates, current principal of PineCrest Elementary School and former principal of Tracyton. “I think everybody goes through the natural process of grief with new routines and new friends ... now (PineCrest) is starting to be home.”

Gates added that once the novelty of being at a new school wore off, students had a hard time the first month learning the ins and outs of their new school. With current staff and students of the schools warmly welcoming new staff and students, Gates said the transition was difficult, but brought greatness.

“The most difficult part has been learning the nuts and bolts of the school ... what paths to follow to get from one building to another,” said Lisa Pitcher, current fifth-grade Cougar Valley Elementary School teacher and former fifth-grade teacher at Seabeck. “The most positive part of this has been the welcoming spirit of openness, acceptance and inclusion of the Cougar Valley staff, PTA and families.”

Pitcher said one of the greatest things she’s learned from the school closure and reconfiguration process was how other school communities opened themselves to new staff and students. Concerned the closure of Seabeck would bring an end to the community that was formed out there, she added the friendships have become stronger, new ones have been made and the community that was feared lost has flourished instead.

“Although we don’t have our little school there, the community is stronger than that and we will search out ways to preserve the community spirit,” Pitcher added.

Playing four-square with a group of new friends, Cougar Valley fifth-grader Kai Hanssen-Keller said he thinks school is basically the same. Mingling with a new group of friends, Hanssen-Keller said the most difficult thing for him was adjusting to additional options the school provided such as band and orchestra.

“At first, it was really hard,” said Cougar Valley fifth-grader and former Seabeck student Jameson Johnson. “I knew every corner of the school, but after I got here, there’s a lot of advantages and disadvantages.”

Also pleased with the newfound choice of band and orchestra, Johnson said one of the things that helped make the transition easier was that Seabeck principal Chris Visserman transferred to Cougar Valley as well, and that a majority of his classmates came to the new school as well.

“If I could choose, I would go to Seabeck,” Johnson added. “But it helps that Mr. Visserman and most of my friends are here ... I liked Seabeck a lot and I miss the school, I miss some of the teachers that went to Green Mountain.”

Visserman said the change has been made positive and possible because everyone has worked together to provide a welcoming environment.

“The nicest part has been the fact that these people have come together and it just feels good to be surrounded by so many people that love our kids,” Visserman added. “I think the students are doing fine and we’ve made a very deliberate effort to mix kids, trying to set them up for success.”

Making necessary changes and adaptations to have a school year filled with success, teachers and students aren’t the only ones who have felt the impacts of school closure. Jackson Park librarian Curt Thompson, former Seabeck librarian and fourth-grade teacher, said the most difficult part for him has been making changes to the library to make it feel more their own.

“The people here at Jackson Park have made it really easy for me ... the staff has been really supportive,” Thompson said. “In the long run, it worked out. Sad as it was to leave Seabeck, I am growing professionally which was an added bonus for me.”

With only two months of the 10-month school year completed, students will continue to blend and mesh together, creating new bonds and friendships that will last a lifetime.

“Change can be difficult,” Gates said, “but it’s a natural process that brings goodness in the end.”

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