SHARPSVILLE — While most students in Mercer County are already back at school, students at Sharpsville Area Elementary School are still savoring one more week of summer vacation.
But students Benjamin Bissell, 6, and his brother Jared Bissell, 10, were in school early to keep their mother, teacher Kathy Jo Bissell, company this week while she prepared her classroom.
Jared said he had mixed feelings about his prolonged summer vacation.
“I feel bad for the other kids because we’re off while they’re going to school, but they’ll get done for the summer before we do,” he said.
Jared said a Browns game in Cleveland would be a highlight of his final week of summer vacation, while Benjamin looked forward to the school’s open house.
“I’m going to have Mrs. Combine this year,” Benjamin said, referring to his homeroom teacher, Sue Combine.
Sharpsville Area School District, starts classes Sept. 3. It’s the only school district in Mercer County to start classes this year after Labor Day, the traditional end of summer.
But the delayed start isn’t a matter of custom. In recent years, the district has begun classes in August, like the other county schools. This year, Superintendent John Vannoy said the district had planned a renovation project over the summer.
The work included increased security measures, with captured vestibules at the middle and high schools and improved security camera coverage.
However, bids for the work came in higher than the anticipated $6 million project cost, so the school board decided to delayed awarding the contract and will put the project out to bid later this year, for completion next summer, Vannoy said.
“Originally, we planned to start later so that the project would be completed before the kids came back for school, but then the bids came in high and we were already locked in to start in September,” Vannoy said.
When students do return, they’ll notice a few changes in the classrooms, particularly in the middle and high schools.
This year, Sharpsville will officially start its one-to-one technology initiative, where the district will distribute Chromebooks to every student in grades six through nine. Eighth- and ninth-graders will be able to take their devices home, while the younger students will have individual Chromebooks that would remain at the school.
“In terms of technology, it really runs the gamut in the terms of what the students will be able to do,” Vannoy said.
Students will get to know some new faces, including the school district’s first school resource officer, this year. Sharpsville Police Department will provide the officer, Dean Toth.
In the past, part-time Sharpsville Borough police officers rotated on the duty of patrolling the schools. This year, however, Toth will serve as a dedicated SRO, with additional training.
Vannoy said Toth will be a full-time presence in the district, which will allow him to build a rapport with the students and the staff.
“There will be opportunities for the officer to hold some training for our staff, or he could also talk to the kids about issues such as drinking and driving or vaping, but he’ll also be able to get to know the students because he’s going to be around them every day,” Vannoy said.
Sharpsville will welcome some new faces, including four seniors from Vietnam attending through American Foundation Pathways. The school district has hosted foreign exchange students before, including students from the People’s Republic of China, but Vannoy said this marks the first year Sharpsville schools will be partnering with AFP.
“I think anytime we can expose our students to a different culture and students from around the world to our culture is a good thing, because education is global,” he said.
Benjamin and Jared, who will be going into first and fifth grade, respectively, both looked forward to the coming school year. But the two brothers had different reasons for their excitement.
Jared will participate in the Blue Crew, a group of fifth-graders that Jared said helps promote the “Blue Devil Way,” which promotes being safe, respectful, and responsible.
“We get to work with the younger grades and help out around the school. We’re kinda like the teachers’ helpers,” Jared said.
Benjamin is looking forward to getting his first locker and “First Grade Rocks,” a performance at the end of the year featuring the elementary school’s first-graders.
“I’m excited,” Benjamin said. “I want to be in it.”
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