COLUMBIA — Kindergartner Willow Seburn woke up early Monday to catch her first ride on a school bus.
Instead of looking for her desk in a well-worn classroom, she ran through double doors into a warm lobby and found the black line that led to her new pod.
At 11:10, she ate her corn dog, tater tots and pudding in a cafeteria that no longer doubled as a gym.
Monday was the first day of school at Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary for Willow and her schoolmates, whose classes moved into the new building from Field Elementary.
The distance from Field, built in 1916, to Lewis is about three miles, but it's a century apart in design. The new building is twice as large as the old school, with pods for each class, a wing for each grade and "discovery zones" for group presentations.
Built for about $18 million, Lewis Elementary has a large gymnasium with a sound system to support the school’s physical education classes and a media center with desktop computers and Smart Boards.
The 297 students and their teachers and staff agreed that the first day went smoothly, despite minor glitches with bus schedules and bitter-cold weather that kept everyone indoors.
The main objective of the day was to acquaint everyone with new procedures and routines.
“The real test came today when the students and their parents came,” Principal Dan Boatman said. “I think it went very well.”
Throughout the day students could sit in comfortable chairs, use a bathroom inside the pod and play in the gym with new equipment. Many of the educational materials were new as well.
“I love the puzzles,” Willow said.
The gymnasium, no longer doubling as a cafeteria, was available for recess, which had to be held indoors because of the cold and an unfinished playground.
“At Field that would never have been an option,” Boatman said. “When our P.E. teacher, Mr. Samples, wasn’t teaching P.E., it was being used as a cafeteria for breakfast and lunch."
Although no books were yet on the shelves, the new Media Center was fully equipped with new wooden tables and chairs, and an array of updated technology.
The school, now operating at about half capacity, will ultimately be able to hold 630 students. Next fall, additional students will arrive from Benton, Blue Ridge, Derby Ridge, Lee and Parkade elementary schools.
“It is another thing we have to look forward to," Boatman said. “Today was a great day … being here at a new school.
"But when we look to the fall, we are going to have an opportunity to meet more friends, more staff, more teachers and more parents.”