Just two weeks ago, Plainfield Memorial School students and teachers had no idea where they’d be starting their school year after a fire caused extensive damage to their school building. Yet, thanks to the generosity, hard work, and dedication of a community pulling together, 350 fourth and fifth graders are back at school today with their teachers, ready for the year ahead.
“These two weeks have taught me something about kindness I’ll never forget,” says principal Natasha Hutchinson.
“Our whole school initiative is talking about grit. Boy, have we shown grit,” says fifth grade teacher Jessica Phaneuf.
When officials quickly determined that it would take until December to repair the Memorial School building, students, parents, and teachers were initially worried that their school community might be broken up. Then Killingly Schools Superintendent Steven Rioux offered Plainfield the use of the old Killingly High School building.
Killingly last used the building as a high school in 2010. The front of the building is now shared between the Killingly School District’s offices and EastCONN’s Northeast Regional Program, however the back of the school has stood vacant—used only for storage.
When Plainfield School officials and Plainfield Education Association leaders toured the old Killingly High, furniture was stacked in piles in the classrooms, dirt covered the floor, and many light fixtures didn’t work.
However, students and parents who visited the school yesterday to meet their teachers and see their new temporary classrooms were greeted by an entirely different view.
As soon as they were given the go ahead, maintenance and custodial staff immediately started working 12 hour days, every day of the week, moving furniture, cleaning every nook and cranny, painting all of the walls, replacing ceiling tiles and light fixtures, and so much more.
“I’m so very grateful for all of the work the custodial staff has put in,” says fourth grade teacher Lynne Dumaine.
Once the space had been cleaned and repaired, teachers went to work, enduring the heat and humidity to do everything in their power to make the old high school classrooms into welcoming environments for fourth and fifth graders.
“All of the teachers in this school have done an amazing job,” says Board of Education Chair Christi Haskell. “Knowing what the rooms looked like before, and now seeing them fully set up—it’s clear that many, many hours went into these classrooms.”
“When you walk into these classrooms you should absolutely be impressed,” Plainfield Superintendent Kenneth DiPietro told students and parents at a community-wide assembly that opened the family meet-and-greet.
“It’s so amazing what the teachers here have been able to pull together on such a short notice,” says Jessica O’Brien, a Plainfield seventh grade science teacher visiting her son Charles’ fifth grade class. “It’s really touching to see how the community has come together.”
CEA President Jeff Leake visited Plainfield Education Association members as they prepared to welcome families, thanking them for all they have done on behalf of their students.
“You all have put in so much extra effort. It’s really outstanding what you’ve been able to do,” Leake told fourth grade teacher Jen Howe.
“This has really been a community-wide effort,” says fifth grade teacher Jeanne Sherman.
While teachers are mourning the loss of cherished classroom items and libraries they developed over decades, they are very thankful for donations that have poured in from across the state, and even neighboring Rhode Island.
“All of the bookcases in my room were donated,” says Sherman. “A former student brought in her own box sets of books and gave them to me for my students. It was very heart warming.”
While there has not been time to install phones in classrooms yet, and the school is currently lacking an internet connection and computers, the school community is relieved to be together again, beginning another school year.
“We’re finding out that all of those old cliche sayings hold true,” says Phaneuf. “‘Don’t underestimate what a small group of people can do,’, ‘It takes a village’—they’re all true. And when the kids are here, the rest of it fades away.”