‘New (and Much Improved) Donley’ Elementary Ready for First Day of School Debut

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Friday, August 23, 2019, 8:56 am
Mark Meyer

Donley Elementary first grade teacher Michaela Norman has been preparing her classroom for the past week in anticipation of the first day of school in the new building on Tuesday. (Photos by Raymond Holt)

Julie Maloney is ready to begin her fifth year of teaching at Donley Elementary with almost as much excitement as the second-graders who will fill her brand-new classroom on Tuesday, Aug. 27, the first day of classes at one of two new two elementary schools in the East Lansing district.

Along with fellow first grade teachers Michaela Norman and Megan Gracik, Maloney was busy prepping her classroom Thursday amid an array of new chairs and desks, spacious cubby lockers for student backpacks and clothing, and natural light beaming through windows that look out into greenspace that eventually will become the school’s playground.

“The building itself is beautiful. It’s a huge update from the ‘old’ Donley,” said Maloney, who taught for two years at Windemere Charter Academy in Lansing prior to starting at Donley. “Everything about it. The classroms, the hallways, the workspace. Everything is updated and modified for the teaching that we are doing now.

“My teaching partner, Kelsie Rourke, and I teach together a lot so we’re excited about sharing a part of our classrooms together, and the easy access that students will have to move from classroom to classroom. Everything about this school is beautiful.”

East Lansing Superintendent Dori Leyko is equally optimistic about what the new environment will represent for the 280 or so students who will stream through the front doors next week.

“A lot of great work in 14 months has gone into this building,” Leyko said, “and we’re not completely done. We still have some metal panels to place on the exterior and bit of painting to complete on the inside, but overall it’s been an exciting project to watch take shape. We believe the students, their parents, the teachers and the community will be thrilled when they see what the new building looks like and what it has to offer.”

Tall ceilings, spacious hallways, rooms to explore

First-time visitors to the new William Donley Elementary School will enter through the main office and then into a clearly marked, colourful hallway that houses an expanded library and media center, music room, art room and cafeteria. Students in grades three through five will have new (and larger) lockers to store their belongings.

The opening of a new school such as Donley (in addition to the “new” Glencairn, also scheduled for next Tuesday) has presented Leyko and her administration with some challenges as well, such as how to manage traffic flow around two buildings. For the 2019-20 school year, the “old” Donley will house Whitehills students, teachers and staff while their building undergoes reconstruction.

In a recent letter to elementary school families, Leyko addressed the concerns about congestion.

“With two school populations on the Donley site this year, we know that there will be traffic congestion,” Leyko wrote. “With the addition of a new car loop off of Lake Lansing Road to access the new Donley building, principals (Tracey Barton/Donley and Shane Johnson/Whitehills) have worked with our Safe Routes to School Committee to design a traffic flow plan to promote a safe drop-off and pick-up process.

“The district also responded to concerns regarding vehicle congestion by providing bus transportation to students in the Whitehills neighborhood. We will monitor the traffic situation at the Donley/Whitehills site closely during the first month of school and make adjustments as needed, recognizing that car traffic tends to be higher and a bit slower during the first few weeks of school while everyone is learning new routines.”

Donley Elementary first grade teacher Megan Gracik.

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