December 24, 2018
Johnson Elementary School recognized as NCWV Media’s Public Project of the Year
Johnson Elementary in Bridgeport, WV, recognized as the Public Project of the Year
by John G. Miller EXECUTIVE EDITOR, WV News, Dec 24, 2018
BRIDGEPORT — If you see Principal Vicki Huffman walking the halls of Johnson Elementary these days, you might notice a little more bounce in her step.
She isn’t the only one, as the veteran educator, her staff and 600 plus students are finishing their first semester at their new $19 million school.
Huffman, who actually did her student teaching at the original Johnson Elementary School back in 1983-84 and has been associated with the school for much of her career, says the new building has provided a spark that has lifted school spirit even higher than before.
Long a school that prided itself with strong community involvement, those who call Johnson home now have a building they can be proud of — a true showpiece for the school’s high educational standards.
“The difference is we tried to make the old school look good and we did the best we could,” Huffman said. “It was still a great school, but had a lot of functionality problems.
“If it rained, it leaked. We didn’t have enough space, with a utilization rate of about 112 percent. We could never have the whole school together at the one time.”
All of that has changed thanks to the commitment of the Harrison County Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Mark Manchin, the state School Building Authority and the Bridgeport community, which worked together to create not only a new school, but one that had far above the norm for elementary schools.
For those efforts and the impact they will have on the students of today and many years into the future, Johnson Elementary has been chosen as NCWV Media’s Public Project of the Year.
Manchin, a 43-year education veteran and former head of the School Building Authority, has witnessed the building of many new schools and how they help to transform the school and community.
“It’s more than just bricks and mortar,” Manchin said of any new school building project. “It’s a renewal of our commitment to education.
“It serves to reinvigorate the administration, the staff, the students and the community,” Manchin said.
“Obviously, it doesn’t replace quality instruction and the value of quality teachers and staff,” Manchin said. “But it’s a tangible commitment. There’s excitement about it.
“It puts a little pep in their step and you see it among the kids, the staff. It signifies and sends a message that we value education.”
The new Johnson Elementary replaced a building that was 50-plus years old, had moisture and mold issues and lacked a dedicated cafeteria and gymnasium.
Instead of having sporadic use of the “cafegymtorium” for physical education classes, the new school has a full gymnasium that is in near constant use by the elementary students, as well as the dance line and freshman basketball teams from nearby Bridgeport High School and local youth leagues.
The gym now makes it possible for students to have at least one day per week of dedicated physical education classes. There’s a rotation so that each student has a nine-week period when he or she has P.E. classes twice a week.
The gym also allows the entire student body to come together for special programming, as was done on Sept. 13 when the school held its official dedication.
On that day, with dignitaries and guests on hand, it was readily apparent that the new school, with bold colors of red, blue and gray, and the mascot of the Little Chiefs had sparked tremendous enthusiasm.
That has carried over, according to Huffman, who marvels at the school’s innovation, which includes state- of-the-art computer labs and Promethean touchscreen boards in every classroom.
Several large group instruction rooms provide learning opportunities for joint classroom exercise and special presentations, giving the school the ability to hold multiple events for the various grade levels without interrupting the normal flow of the day.
The new building and design also enable local staff to make easy adjustments to heating and cooling systems on a daily basis, something the old building and its antiquated HVAC units didn’t allow, Huffman said.
While Huffman and her staff are thrilled to have a new facility, the real impact is seen in the students, who have embraced the building as a new home.
Gabby Horne said she and other students like that the school is much bigger than the old one.
“I think the new school is way bigger and more modern (compared to the old Johnson),” she said. “I love the big bridge — how you can see out to see outside and see everything that’s going on. I like how big the gym is and how it has the bleachers so if there’s something going on in there, people can come in and watch the sporting events.”
The size of the classrooms is also a big selling point for the students.
“I like the difference in size of the classrooms. In the last school, some of them were different sizes, like some of them were bigger than others,” she said. “I like that the lockers are bigger and wider. I like the Promethean Board. It’s not a projector, but like a big computer on the wall.”
The new technology, basically the equivalent of a smartboard, allows students to do lessons. In the old days, students were called to the blackboard and used chalk; then it was to a whiteboard to use a dry erase marker.
Now students can use their fingers as markers and do everything from math equations to sentences.
Technology is a key component to learning, as Horne said students are engaged in various ways.
“We do ‘Type to Learn’ most of the time (in the computer labs),” she said. “We are learning how to code with ‘Hour of Code.’ It’s like where we kind of get to make a game.
“There’s this one called ‘Dance Party,’ where you can make a character to dance to the music and have it do what you really want it to do.”
Second-grader Jack Holbert also likes the Promenthean boards and says it helps students pay attention.
“Sometimes we do spelling on it or they go over stuff on it, like tests and stuff,” he said. “One time they let us watch a movie. It was about Christmas.”
Another second-grader, Evan Rose, may have best summed up the student body’s attitude and acceptance of their new facility.
“I like the school, I think it’s because it’s big,” he said. “I think that the old one was kind of rusty and stuff. This one has more of a newer feeling to it.”