Keene Central students return to school

Emily Reynolds presents kindergartner Annabelle Bullock with a toy beaver, the Keene Central School mascot, on Tuesday, Sept. 7, the first day of school. Each kindergartner was given a stuffed toy on the first morning of school. (Provided photo — Martha Allen)

KEENE VALLEY — Students arrived on bicycles, school buses and in cars on Tuesday, Sept. 7 for the first day of the new school year at Keene Central. Most looked happy to be back; some seemed a little apprehensive; all wore masks to protect themselves and others from getting COVID-19.

KCS Superintendent Dan Mayberry, school board President Sheryl Quinn and board members Emily Reynolds Bergh, Lauren Crowl, Jennifer Kazmierczak and Molly Jacobson stood outside the building, welcoming incoming students.

Teachers entered by the original front door of the building, where they were greeted and given flowers by reading teacher Melissa LaVallee, while students were ushered in through the gymnasium entrance. The main entranceway to the school is still under construction. Completion of capital project work, headed by Jake Riggins, is set for December, with the exception of one of the school’s soccer fields, which is expected to be finished next summer.

Bergh handed out stuffed animal toys — beavers, in deference to the KCS mascot — one to each of the 13 kindergartners in Kathleen Morse’s class.

“What do you say?” parents prodded their youngsters, in typical parent style.

Students arrive at Keene Central School on Tuesday, Sept. 7. (Provided photo — Martha Allen)

“Thank you!” the kindergartners said.

“It doesn’t look like a beaver; it looks like a chipmunk,” one small boy added appraisingly.

Breakfast was served in the cafeteria. Students were asked to pick up their meals and take them along to their classrooms.

New playground equipment, designed for use by all ages, has been installed, and neighborhood children have already been enjoying it all week.

The main entranceway and play area are just two of the many parts of KCS to undergo repair or replacement this year. A conference room, new science lab, guidance center and other additions, a new septic system and septic field and changes to the school’s heating system are among the improvements now in place.

Mars Ruby, left, stands beside his brother, third-grader Will Ruby, as they arrive at KCS. Mars shows off the toy beaver he received as they entered the school on their first day. (Provided photo — Martha Allen)

In 2016, Keene residents formed a strategic planning committee in order to discuss the possibility of a school merger. Because KCS is a small school, with fewer than 200 students in grades K-12, some town residents were in favor of a merger. Community feedback, however, was largely in favor of keeping KCS as an independent school district. The committee determined that, in order to continue into the future, KCS would need to change with the times.

The capital project of approximately $7.8 million was approved by Keene Central School District voters in 2019, and is still in progress.

At 8 a.m. the bell rang, and everyone went inside. The first day had begun.

Aubrey Favro, a kindergartner at Keene Central School, receives a stuffed beaver toy from Emily Reynolds Bergh Tuesday, Sept. 7, on her first day of school, accompanied by her brother Cooper and mother Cori Anne Favro. (Provided photo — Martha Allen)