For many months, school representatives tried to get funding to rebuild Oakman Elementary. In late 2009, after a trip to Montgomery by school officials and students, the school was given $8 million to rebuild. Now, the school is set to open its doors for the 2011-2012 academic year, bearing a new name, Oakman Middle School.
The new school is much larger than the old building, housing multiple classrooms and the school's first lunchroom, exclusively for elementary students, located at the center of the building. Also, grades 7 and 8 will now be located at the middle school, making Oakman High house only grades 9-12.
Each classroom in Oakman Middle is equipped with special features, including a smart board and sink, to encourage handwashing. Classrooms that house Headstart and first-grade are additionally equipped with a small restroom for the young students. The toilets installed in these rooms have scalloped seats, preventing students from becoming unsteady, and sit low to ground, accommodating the children's short statures.
Computer labs consists of long tables, with separated cubicles for typing. There are also rolling chairs at each table, painted in the school's blue color scheme.
The science lab, for older students, has wooden cabinets surrounding student lab stations, which serve to store beakers, microscopes and other lab supplies that students may need when conducting experiments.
Faculty members say one of the most stunning rooms in the building is the school's spacious library, which has two large bookshelf's wrapping around it.
Several smaller bookshelf's each adorned with an "O" surrounding the face of a wildcat (which principal Dr. Dennis Willingham designed himself) are placed in front of four large stone columns that extend to the ceiling. A petite seating area resides at the center of the columns.
Willingham said the school was designed with student safety in mind, and the restrooms are no exception. The restrooms have no-skid floors, toilets and sinks that are sensor operated, stainless steel hand dryer's, and safety rails. There are also two faculty restrooms located at each corridor.
Students will no longer have to travel outside to go to the lunchroom, which young students shared with the high school students. While the lunchroom was not set up at press time, it will consist of the same assembly style food serving that the children at Oakman Middle are accustomed to. A projector will also be installed in the lunchroom, in the event that school officials want to show videos in the space.
Willingham helped with much of the design process, including suggesting that the floor tiles in the hallways were of a design that would not utilize the same printed tile throughout the entire building. Parents also gave input on the design, with the suggestion of color coded paw prints in the hallways to serve as a guide for students through the many halls located in the school.
Faculty members are already setting up their classrooms.
"We're so excited," Ginger Norris, a kindergarten teacher said beaming.
On Wednesday, Norris was busy decorating her classroom and was starting to place a farm scene on her wall. She had already placed color charts, and other decorative aspects around her room.
Mary Woods, who has been a teacher at Oakman Middle for more than 30 years, said she is thankful for the new school. She discussed her love for teaching, and how she wants her classroom to be a welcoming environment.
"This is their home," Woods said.
While she doesn't want to reveal her classroom design in an effort to surprise her students on the first day of classes, she did say that she wants her room to be, in essence, like the outdoors.
"I want this room to be so bright," she said.
While student numbers fluctuate each year, school officials expect overall enrollment to be up this year.
"Our numbers have steadily increased," Dr. Dennis Willingham, the principal of Oakman Middle, said.
School enrollment will be up to more than 600 students due to seventh-and eight-grade students moving from the high school to the middle school. However, another reason for the increase in enrollment is that the school will receive more than 50 students from Townley Junior High and Farmstead Elementary schools, both of which recently closed.
Bill Madison used to be a teacher at Townley Junior High, and he will be transitioning to Oakman Middle as the school's new math teacher and basketball coach, joining a faculty of more than 30 individuals. Willingham feels that Madison's presence will help the students from Townley adjust to their new environment.
"We know that's going to help with the transition for Townley students," Willingham said.
Increase in enrollment has also prompted the school to have an additional Headstart class.
Some faculty members from the high school will be coming to the middle school to teach certain subjects, assisting in teaching the large number of students. Melanie Tubbs, who teaches Family and Consumer Science, and Chris Thrasher, who teaches Agriscience, will be two of the teachers coming to Oakman Middle to teach their respective subjects to seventh-and eighth-grade students.
Much of the instruction for the two classes will take place in classrooms at the middle school; however, students who need to use the workshop for Agriscience will travel down the hill, to the high school. In addition, any activities that Family and Consumer Science students will need to do in a classroom kitchen will be done at the high school.
Sports programs will still be offered at the middle school, but the school will be participating in sports competitions, for the first time, due to the addition of students in 7 and 8 grades. The school gym was the only part of the middle school that wasn't rebuilt, but workers are renovating it to accommodate sports competitions.
With so much change occurring at Oakman Middle, faculty members say their goal is to make students be as comfortable as possible.
"I think because we are excited, that it's going to be contagious," said Robin Tingle, who has been a reading coach at Oakman Middle for 27 years.
Woods wants students to be at ease as well, and she feels that the relationship she has with her students, and her love for teaching, encourage her to strive to make students optimistic of the transition.
"My kids come through for me . . . they are my world," Woods said.
Willingham said he is grateful for the strides that the faculty have made at Oakman Middle for "embrac[ing] change with a smile." He insists that even though the bricks and mortar facility of the school has changed, the spirit and closeness of the school has not faltered.
"It's going to be a challenge . . . We're still going to love and take care of these kids," Willingham said.
After classes start next month, the school will be having an open house, consisting of an assembly and a tour of the new school. While an official date has not been set, the open house is expected to occur in August.
"God has blessed us throughout the storm and is continuing to bless us," Willingham said smiling as he sat on one of the chairs in the new library.