SPRINGFIELD — Students walked into Brightwood-Lincoln Elementary School for the first time Monday morning with each child wearing a facemask and seated at a desk three feet from their classmates.
Students at the newly combined Brightwood and Lincoln schools found themselves walking not only into new COVID-19 prevention protocols but a new concept in education. One large building at 255 Plainfield St. is housing more than 800 students, but is designed to present as two schools: Brightwood on the left side and Lincoln to the right.
Superintendent of Schools Daniel J. Warwick said the dual-school concept came up as he and his team looked at research that indicated smaller schools had better educational outcomes for students. The Massachusetts School Building Authority, the major funder for new school construction, likes the idea of larger buildings because they are easier and less expensive to build. The result was an $82 million project that looks like one building for 800 students, but divided into two separate schools, each serving its own neighborhoods.
“All the research said keep schools under 400 kids if you can. We wanted to keep the small school identity all the research says works best,” Warwick said. “So, we came up with the school next to a school concept and now the MSBA is pushing the concept across the state because it is such as success.”
The Brightwood School, just like the old building, services the west side of Interstate 91 with the exception of Main Street, while the Lincoln Elementary School continues to serve those on the east side of the highway.
The new school is a demonstration of Springfield’s continued push to modernize its school system, Warwick said.
“Our $82 million project here and the other great projects that have happened under the Sarno Administration, more projects than anywhere in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” he said “We have had about $700 million worth of school building projects in the last 10 years. Boston hasn’t had any.”
The two principals for the schools agree that administering schools of 400 students versus having to shepherd 800 children gives them better contact with pupils.
“It just allows us to better know our students,“ Brightwood principal Jose Escribano said. “It allows us to really know the students, to have more personal contact with them.”
Lincoln Elementary School principal Mark McCann said he spent part of his day going into each classroom to meet the students. That would not work with a larger school.
“I’ve gone into every classroom to introduce myself and talk with the kids. If we had only one school, I’d still be doing it at the end of the day,” McCann said. “It is more cost-effective to build one building with two schools in it, with shared spaces but still have two distinct schools with two distinct students bodies and their families. It’s a great workaround.”
On Monday, Springfield Public Schools administrators and elected officials unveiled a partnership program designed to feed students in socially distanced classrooms, rather than assembling large groups in traditional cafeterias.
Called “Home Grown Springfield,” the School Department and contractor Sodexo have created a Culinary and Nutrition Center on Caldwell Street where Sodexo employees prepare meals for students, then truck them to individual schools for students to eat in their classrooms.
Officials unveiled the “Home Grown Springfield” truck at Brightwood-Lincoln Elementary School to announced the program. The large box truck came complete with images of Springfield students Evangeline Murray, Damon Henriquez Castillo and Kayla Statley smiling down from its side.
The program has the added benefit of using locally grown produce and products as well.