WOOD RIVER JCT. — Early Tuesday morning, long lines of buses pulled up in front of Chariho schools and hundreds of students spilled out, ready for the first day of the new school year.
There are 3,243 students enrolled so far at Chariho’s High school, middle school, the four elementary schools, Chariho Tech and the Chariho Alternative Learning Academy.
There were a couple of opening day glitches. A heat advisory issued by the National Weather Service prompted the cancellation of afternoon classes, and at Charlestown Elementary School, where contamination was discovered last spring during tests of the school’s well water, the Rhode Island Department of Health has not yet declared that the water is safe to drink. Students and the staff will continue to drink bottled water until further notice.
Superintendent Barry Ricci, who is still recovering from surgery, was back in his office, having returned to work part-time.
“The first day of school is one of new beginnings, new relationships, and new expectations,” he said. “My wish for each of our students is that they leave their first day wanting to come back for more.”
The biggest news on the Chariho campus is the opening of the Chariho Alternative Learning Academy. The new building replaces several trailers that had served since 2003 as the district’s school for students with special needs.
The Rhode Island Department of Education approved $5.2 million for the new school and voters approved a bond of up to $6 million to build the new school. Construction began in August 2017.
Academy director Jeanne Ross was in her office bright and early, attending to the myriad of small details, such as stubborn thermostats, that are all part of moving into a new building. Ross had planned a special welcome for the students that included breakfast and a scavenger hunt, and admitted she hadn’t slept much the previous night.
“No sleep,” she said. “It’s a new building, new students, new staff — very exciting.”
The school can accommodate up to 60 students and 54 are already enrolled in the alternative learning and clinical day programs.
“We are at capacity, with a wait list for the alternative learning program,” Ross said. “I’ve heard it’s the first time they’ve started with a waiting list.”
The school staff numbers 17: nine instructors and eight behavior management assistants like Dave Kennedy.
“Those trailers, after five years they should have been replaced,” Kennedy said. “It’s a fresh start, fresh everything. It’s new beginnings.”
The students gathered in the new gym, a facility they haven’t had until now, for a short welcome.
“Your parents, neighbors, elected officials committed the time, energy and the funds to make this building meet your needs as students,” Ross told them as they enjoyed a pancake breakfast.
Senior Caelan Penado said he had spent about a month-and-a-half in the old building last year and was glad to be in the new school.
“It definitely wasn’t the best,” he said of the trailers. “This is a lot better. It’s even better than the high school, in my opinion.”
C.J. Boisclair, 16, said the new building offered more facilities.
“We’ve got a full gym now, instead of just a little classroom, and we have a ton of learning labs,” he said. “It’s just really nice. It’s more inspiring. Just looking at it makes you think of a good school year.”