JEFFERSONVILLE — The first school year for the downtown Jeffersonville elementary will look different than originally planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but on Wednesday, students will be welcomed into the doors of their brand-new school.

On Monday, Greater Clark County Schools presented a ribbon cutting for Franklin Square Elementary School, located on Court Avenue at the former Jeffersonville High School building. Wednesday is the first day of school for the district.

Students from Maple and Spring Hill elementary schools are among the students who will be attending the new school — the two elementary schools closed this year, and the creation of the new downtown school was approved in a 2018 petition process.

The school will have about 330 students enrolled — 200 of those students will be attending in-person, while the others will be learning virtually.

Franklin Square Principal Virenda Cunningham-Lester said the school is the “final product of a lot of sweat and tears.” She previously served as the principal at Spring Hill.

“This is an exciting opening day for everyone who’s been on this journey with us,” she said.

The school will be the first in Greater Clark to launch Project Lead the Way and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) curriculum in partnership with the city’s NoCo Arts & Cultural District. There will be hands-on learning programs and project-based learning integrated into classes at the school.

“It’s the first school in Greater Clark to have it, and we’ll kind of lead the pathway for the others,” Cunningham-Lester said.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be procedures in place at the school for social distancing and sanitation.

“Every school year is different — every year you come back and have a different start and different goals,” Cunningham-Lester said. “This one is no different except we have a pandemic, and our focus along with education will be on safety and keeping people healthy.”

Greater Clark Superintendent Mark Laughner said it has been a priority for both the district and the City of Jeffersonville to have a downtown school.

“To finally see this to completion is a great moment,” he said. “This property down here — there’s a long history of education on this property, so to be able to continue that history here I think is also very important. To provide this nice new facility for our elementary students in this area will be fantastic for the students — it will be a great learning environment for them.”

A large slide greets people as they walk into the entrance, and bright colors of green and blue adorn the walls. Students at the school selected the school colors and the Franklin Square Falcons mascot.

Maple and Spring Hill were two of Greater Clark’s oldest buildings, and they were in poor condition, Laughner said.

“It wasn’t the greatest learning environment for those students in those two buildings, and this will be a tremendous upgrade not only for the students but also for the staff,” he said.

Laughner said he hopes that students will be able to finish their first semester in the building, and the district will follow the recommendations of Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel.

“We’ve done a lot of planning to make this environment as safe as possible,” he said. “We’ve communicated with the health department as much as we possibly can. We have the support of the health department and Dr. Yazel in starting on Wednesday.”

Jeffersonville resident Kofi Darku is the parent of two Franklin Square students. His daughters, Evelyn and Sonia, will not be attending in-person this semester, but instead they will be learning virtually until the COVID-19 situation improves.

Although his daughters will not be attending in-person classes right away, he said he is happy to finally see the new downtown school open, and they are excited about the start of the school year. They previously attended Thomas Jefferson Elementary.

“To have a school here really helps anchor the families downtown, and I think it’s also a great beacon for the school district that as things are improving — despite the pandemic — you have this awesome new school in downtown, and Jeffersonville continues to grow.”

Jeffersonville couple Ed and Lindsey Siewert’s son, Lance, will be attending kindergarten in-person at Franklin Square this year, and they have another child who previously attended Maple. They are “ready to get going” with the new school year, Ed said, and he loves the “newness” of the building.

The new school is in their neighborhood, Lindsey said, and she looks forward to the “camaraderie” from the community represented at Franklin Square.

“It feels good,” she said. “It’s going to be our community and kids coming to this school.”

Sharon Leavell-Marshall teaches second grade at Franklin Square — this is her 41st year of teaching. She previously taught for 32 years at Spring Hill.

She looks forward to starting the year at the new school, but there will be plenty of adjustments for both her and the students amid the pandemic. They will have to do elbow bumps instead of hugs, and students will not be able to share school supplies. Her classroom is also set up differently to allow for more distancing.

“I’m so excited to be here at Franklin Square to actually see the school come alive,” she said. “We’ve talked about it for so long and planned for it, and it’s exciting, but we’re waiting for COVID to be over so we can get all our kids to come in — some of them are choosing to do online, and that’s what’s best for their families right now.”

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