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Big transition for students, families of new super school

Refurbished JK-8 St. Basil elementary school will open in September; principal says there is an overall sense of excitement
Joe Chilelli, St. Theresa Catholic School principal, Christine Durocher, St. Pius X Catholic School principal, Fil Lettieri, St. Bernadette Catholic School principal and Donna Carricato, St. Ann Catholic School principal, at a H-SCDSB meeting Apr. 19, 2017. The four schools will close, their students will be taught at the refurbished St. Basil school beginning in September. Chilelli will be principal, Lettieri vice principal. Darren Taylor/SooToday

Students, teachers and parents are, for the most part, excited about being part of the new JK to 8 St. Basil Catholic Elementary School, scheduled to open in the former St. Basil high school site in September.

The school, at 250 St. Georges Avenue East, is formed from the consolidation of St. Ann, St. Bernadette, St. Pius X and St. Theresa Catholic Elementary Schools.

That might be a big transition for some of the 440 to 460 students expected to attend the new school.

“A lot of kids do struggle with transition and change,” said Joe Chilelli, current St. Theresa principal, who will serve as St. Basil principal in September.

“Some of the things we’re doing to help those kids are having tours of the school site in the summer, showing the kids where their classes are going to be, what door they’re going to come in, all of that pre-exposure is really helpful for the kids, especially those that are anxious about the change…we’re also planning an open house where kids can come in with their families,” Chilelli told SooToday after Wednesday’s Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board meeting.

“Overall, I think there’s a sense of excitement,” Chilelli said.   

Students, staff and parents from the four schools have already held several activities together to bond as a single school family, make new friends and overcome any transition difficulties that may come up.

“One of the activities was a joint play day where the kids played in a safe, non-threatening, fun environment, low risk, kids got together to meet one another, had some fun, a lot of good relationships were made and it was highly successful,” Chilelli said.

“Then we had a literacy day for the kids, there were icebreakers, so the kids got to know one another.”

There have also been several joint religious services between the four schools and a math night.

“Math night was really well attended…it was just amazing to have the kids interact with different teachers from the different schools hosting activities at different stations, and the next one coming up May 3 at St. Mary’s College is the Let’s Create Together arts night, organized completely by the parents, and there are lots of fun activities planned, lots of engagement there,” said Fil Lettieri, current St. Bernadette principal who will serve as St. Basil’s vice principal.

Students from the four schools have also worked together in the designing of a logo for the new school.

A joint welcome to kindergarten event will also be held in September.

Students and teachers have said facilities such as the St. Basil chapel, larger gym, cafeteria, specialized art and music rooms, a dance studio, science labs, kitchen facilities and other features will help build a sense of community among students from the four soon-to-close, smaller elementary schools.

French Immersion classes will also be available as an option from Junior Kindergarten and all the way up.

Additional intramural sports, clubs and outdoor sports equipment will be made available. 

There will be a Hockey Skills Academy available for Grade 8 kids in September, including 60 sessions with certified Hockey Canada coaches in class at St. Basil and on ice at the John Rhodes Centre. 

Adult supervisors will also wear brightly coloured vests to be more easily located by students when help is required, to help combat bullying and other problems which may arise.

“It sounds simplistic, but I can’t tell you how effective that is.  To the community it gives a message and says ‘we’re concerned about student safety,’” Chilelli told the board.

An Apr. 6, 2017 report to the board, prepared by Sam Colizza, H-SCDSB manager of plant services, states necessary demolition of some parts of St. Basil’s original structure has taken place and “site work has restarted with the warmer weather.”

“Substantial completion is scheduled for July 31, 2017,” Colizza’s report states.

St. Ann, St. Bernadette, St. Pius X and St. Theresa schools will become surplus H-SCDSB property, meaning other school boards and not-for-profits will have dibs on those properties for a time before they become available for sale to the private sector.

John Stadnyk, H-SCDSB director of education, said the board is looking at using St. Pius as a central stores facility and carpentry shop.