George Junior Republic students are thrilled about their new school.
The Pine Township institute for court-adjudicated boys had an open house for its new 62,000-square-foot academic center last Thursday.
The best compliment James Bird, director of development, heard from a student about the new school was “I don’t feel like I’m in placement,” Bird quoted him.
“That was like giving me gold. He can be a kid in school.”
“The school I went to didn’t look anything like this,” said Orlando Stubblefield, 18, a GJR resident. “Coming from our conditions, this is nice.”
It’s common for the boys to “come from rough neighborhoods,” he said.
Stubblefield came to GJR from San Francisco 14 months ago.
He graduated in May, before the completion of the academic center, but has since been a handyman of sorts at GJR while he awaits his release date.
“He does whatever we ask him to do,” said Principal James Anderson.
Stubblefield passed out fliers to visitors at the open house, and had helped GJR “move furniture here every day” during the holiday break, Anderson said.
“He’s a good man.”
Classes officially began Jan. 4 in the new school.
There are 36 classrooms in the new building, and about 40 teachers at GJR, Anderson noted.
“It’s an advantage to the youth in our population,” said David Clausen, a remedial health and special needs physical education teacher for 16 years at GJR.
“It gives them equal opportunity with everything available to them that you’d expect in an American school.”
So far the students are proud of the school and adapting well, added Candy Clausen, a part-time health teacher and Mr. Clausen’s wife.
The school is much more “high tech,” she said.
“There’s no comparison. It’s state-of-the art everything. It’s wonderful,” said Beverly “Bev” Graham, a ninth grade English teacher for 21 years at GJR.
“I’m glad I got to move here, and end my career here,” Graham said. “Wow.”
GJR’s old school system was cramped and in different locations.
Classes were held in Morgan Barnes School, the library and annex building. GJR also has a vocational school that the residents can choose to attend if they want to learn a trade.
Any fights between the boys would happen en route from building to building, said James Anderson, principal.
Being in one location, “monitoring the kids is so much easier,” he said.
The security system in the new school is updated. The school is uniquely configured, with a circular epicenter and several halls jutting out from it, similar to a stick drawing of the sun.
At the center is a security station. A guard can see down each hallway and view a monitor to “keep an eye on the kids,” Anderson said.
Outside of each classroom are blue lights that will signal if a teacher is having problem, and hits a panic button. Before, a panel in the school office was consulted to see which teacher sounded the alarm, which took more time.
“Now you can find them right away,” Anderson said.
The total building project was budgeted at $11.13 million, with construction beginning in July 2009 during GJR’s centennial year, Bird said.
The first phased involved tearing down two cottages, where the new school is sitting, and replacing them elsewhere on campus.
The second phase was building the new school, which took an $8.5 million chunk out of the budget, he added.
The final phase will be a renovation of the aging Barnes School. Additions to Barnes will be razed, and the original building will be renovated for administrative offices and a student union, Bird noted.
Now that classes and the library are moved to the new building, the annex and old library will be used for administrative programs, he added.
Currently, there are just over 500 students at GJR, Anderson said.
Not all attend the new school or the vo-tech. Some with special needs receive personalized instruction in units in their cottages.
Although GJR provides all the academic spaces and buildings, the Grove City Area School District rents them to provide the education for the students, said superintendent Dr. Robert Post.
The boys’ school districts provide tuition to Grove City, which uses it to pay for the expenses, he added.
Post was present at the open house.
“The administration and architects have done a wonderful job, not just with a beautiful building but providing a better learning environment for many years to come,” he said.
“It’s definitely a one-in-a-million place to work,” Graham stated. The boys usually arrive at GJR and feel “they’re at the end of their rope,” she said.
“They’re successful because they’re not allowed to fail. After they are here, I find they do like to learn.”
“I think it’s a positive environment to get an education,” Stubblefield added.
“Everybody likes the new school. It’s less stressful, and you can get to class on time.”