There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place were colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.
Those words of a poem captured the goal for the newly re-opened Robert Morris School, Principal Maureen Notaro said during a ceremony Friday morning.
“When we needed more space at Jackson Primary, I suggested that we move our pre-kindergarten classrooms over to Robert Morris. We had many conversations about who, what, why, when, and where over the months last spring and summer,” said Notaro, principal of Jackson Primary and its pre-school satellite at Robert Morris on Richmond Avenue and Union Street. “This was a collaborative effort with one thing in common; we all shared the same vision of early literacy. We wanted to create a magical place where students felt happy and accepted, where they would meet new friends and flourish to start off their first experience at school in Batavia.”
Robert Morris has a storied history, from its construction of a 12-room site in 1928 to accommodate elementary students, to the closing in 2012 when students were merged with Jackson Primary and John Kennedy Intermediate as a savings measure through consolidation, to now, once again, being used as a city school due to what officials have said were rising pre-school numbers and a need for extra space not available at the primary school.
City school officials, staff, parents, and children gathered outside of the school to celebrate its resurrected use for education of city school district students. Robert Morris has “a deep and proud history within our community,” with thousands of community members passing through its legendary halls, Trisha Finnigan said on behalf of Superintendent Jason Smith, who was absent due to illness.
“I have no doubt of the impact this beautiful campus has had on countless fellow Batavians,” Smith said. “I see it in the comments, likes, and engagement … in the celebratory calls and emails I’ve been getting from our neighbors, and from community members stopping me in Tops and at our sporting events across the street at VanDetta Stadium.
“It took a true village of passionate BCSD team members to bring our vision of reopening Robert Morris to life,” he said.
Smith credited his district leadership team of Finnigan, Scott Rozanski and Molly Corey, all who assisted with the “monumental logistical task of opening a school and staffing it,” and to Notaro and Assistant Principal Jessica Torrey.
After the school was closed for district educational use a decade ago, the building was used either for district needs (public relations, information technology), or rented out to various organizations, including BOCES, a daycare, Harvester Center, and Arc. After receiving comments that Jackson Primary was getting pretty tight due to increased enrollments, the district bumped up first grade’s eight sections to 10, which then created a need for additional space at Jackson. Four UPK sections have been moved to Robert Morris.
“Students who attend UPK get adjusted to what school will look like next year in Kindergarten,” Notaro said. “Exposure to school routines in preschool prepares them for the structure and the expectations of kindergarten. Research tells us that experiences in the early years are the foundation of long-term growth of a child. Preschool is much more about developing social-emotional skills than it is about developing academic skills.”
These social-emotional skills include learning to share and take turns, showing empathy for classmates and self-regulating their own strong emotions, she said. Without skills like these, “children will have a hard time moving on to academic achievement in later years,” she said.
“We are very excited to reopen Jackson Primary Satellite at Robert Morris. We have experienced great success in combining our preschool with Universal Pre Kindergarten to provide a rich early literacy experience for our students of Batavia and surrounding areas,” Notaro said.
There are 72 kids in Universal Pre-Kindergarten and about 30 in the pre-school program, which can also accommodate up to 70 students, she said. While Notaro has been at the district for 23 years, this is Torrey’s second year as assistant principal in a total 15 years at the district. She has found that “there’s always excitement to come to pre K, whether they’re at Jackson or whether they’re at Robert Morris,” Torrey said.
“They love their first school experience because they’re always excited to be here,” she said. “But we have noticed an increase in excitement from parents and community members in this building because it is such a beloved building in our community.”
Top photo: Pre-schoolers Braxton Bliven and Troy Briggs help with the ribbon-cutting ceremony with Principal Maureen Notaro Friday at Robert Morris school in Batavia; above is Assistant Principal Jessica Torrey. Photos by Joanne Beck.