O’Fallon District 104 teachers, support staff and students were given the opportunity to make the case for funding a new building at Central Elementary, and address the need for more space at Joseph Arthur Middle because of overcrowding when Illinois Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) visited for a tour of each school, as well as, to eat lunch with JAMS student council members Monday, May 1.
“I look forward to being able to be an advocate for you guys, and kind of have our voices heard. Because, like you, I feel like a lot of times, as an educator, people don’t really understand what really happens in these classrooms and how it all works together,” Stuart said.
Stuart has been a full-time legislator since January. She was a teacher for years before taking on her new job Springfield.
“I’ve always been a teacher — it’s actually what I’ve done for 25 years until I did this,” she said.
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With a background in mathematics from Rutgers University, Stuart, lives in Edwardsville with her husband and two children, was formerly a public elementary and high school math teacher in Edwardsville and Highland. She also was math instructor at Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville.
The Illinois Central Federation of Teachers and Support Staff Local Union 4673 co-presidents Doug Rist and Derek Morgan, both said JAMS is at capacity, and the school is experiencing space restrictions and overcrowding.
“Right now, the multipurpose gymnasium is about half the size it should be for our students to use for extra curricular activities, and we have to bus over students to the Central (Elementary) gym for extracurriculars, like practices,” Morgan said.
Two full classes are supposed to be able to fit in the multipurpose gymnasium, which is dually used as a cafeteria. But that isn’t possible currently, either. Classes have to take turns eating lunch, which Stuart said is a time-waster for staff and students.
Morgan said students are lacking in locker rooms for athletic purposes, too.
“The students have to change clothes in the music room now,” Morgan said. The music room is a carpeted room that is accessed through the Central gymnasium.
Teaching history, as well as acting as co-president for IFT, Rist said, “It’s very few occasions where you get to sit down with a state representative and just chit chat about issues. So I thought it was a great opportunity for the students to experience, especially since their about to take the Illinois Constitution exam, so it really relates to what they are learning about right now.”
Garrett Roumpos, 14, an eighth-grader at JAMS is the student council president, and said he was excited to meet Stuart.
“I think, overall, she seemed like a very nice and caring person looking for the interest of students,” Garrett said.
“Some of the difficulties, like having to share space with lunch and P.E., and trying to navigate, that makes things difficult in terms of scheduling, and there’s similar challenges other subjects, as well as space,” Stuart said.
Meanwhile, at Central, fourth-graders are segregated off into modular buildings, also due to lack of space.
The building was built in the early 20th century and has had eight additions/renovations since. Administrators said a new building would be better for the students, staff and the district’s pocket book.
Leah Cain, fourth-grade teacher at Central, said she’s thankful Stuart took time to tour the schools “and see the dire need for revenue.”
“Our students need safe schools to get the most out of their education. Our district is a wonderful school community. However, Central Elementary School is in desperate need of a new building, since fourth-grade students are being shuttled back and forth from trailers. We, as a community, are committed to giving our students the schools they deserve,” Cain said.
In Laura Watkins’ fourth-grade class of 19 students, Dani Johnson and Joshua Scott, both shared with Stuart a little more about the conditions inside the trailers that house their classroom. They are colder in the winter time and roof leaks sometimes when it’s rainy, the students said.
“I bet it’s tough. It makes it really hard to concentrate,” Stuart said in response.
While the space is cramped and not ideal, John Bute, District 104 superintendent, said the teachers, “do a fantastic job at decorating and making the space comfortable for the students with what resources we do have.”