by Thomas K. Pendergast
While most people across the country obsessed about the solar eclipse traveling from
coast to coast on Aug. 21, students at Frank McCoppin Elementary School lined up for
their first day of school under a grey, overcast sky.
Principal Bennett Lee stood before the students in a blue suit and tie to begin the new
school year. Holding a microphone, he addressed the school community through a pair
of portable loudspeakers.
“I don’t believe we will see a solar eclipse,” he said. “Here’s a solution. Teachers, if you
have a laptop, or you’re able to get online and hook it up to your screen, watch it from
National Geographic.com. That will give you a nice idea of what an eclipse looks like. It
doesn’t come along often, so we don’t want to miss the opportunity.
“We are going to have a wonderful day. boys and girls. Enjoy your first day. Close your
eyes for a second. Pretend you’re a camera. Take a picture of this. Remember this for the
rest of your lives,” Lee said.
And there was plenty of new stuff for the youth to remember, like a freshly remodeled
and modernized campus. Throughout the summer, construction crews had taken out the
portable temporary classrooms that lined the Seventh Avenue side of the school and
completely renovated the permanent buildings.
The $10.1 million project was funded by the $531 million Proposition A bond measure
that voters passed in 2011, and featured the complete elimination of asphalt blacktop in
play areas, which was replaced by a more forgiving acrylic surface.
“Over the summer what they did was a three-phase construction,” Lee said, starting with
the renovation of the classrooms, then moving on to the administrative building.
“They redid the whole building, pretty much from the bottom up,” he explained.
“That, basically, is a brand new building. We built the whole thing, covered it all
up, made it into a multi-purpose room connected to the office so we can have indoor
recess, performances and lunch.
Although we are a very ‘outdoor school,’ we have access to every building without
having to get wet if it rains.”
Lee also noted that the campus has improved fences and security, replacing the
chain-link fences once there.
“We now have entryways that will be set up with cameras. You can get out but
if you come in, we have to buzz you in. The school is much more secure. No one
can just walk into the yard.”
In the classrooms, walls, ceilings and windows were replaced, plus the Wi-Fi
system was upgraded.
“We’re very high tech. We use ProBooks. We use iPads. Every classroom has a set of eight
that the children share,” he said. “Everything was gutted. All you saw were beams and
The basketball courts at the school have been reduced to half-courts and basket
posts, and four new touch ball courts plus a big four-square court, along with
four smaller four-square courts and two hopscotch game areas now fill up the rest
of the open playground.
The courtyard between the classrooms and the administration building is being
replaced, and when finished it will include a new drainage system, bicycle
rack, two planter areas for trees and foliage, new light posts, concrete stools and
McCoppin School overhaul drinking fountains.
Another significant upgrade is that the campus was brought up to modern
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. The bathrooms, faculty lounge and
food service areas have also been renovated. New plumbing and fire sprinklers
have been installed, along with a new electrical system.
Later, the school will be adding a new mural to a wall on the Sixth Avenue side
of the campus, but the tile mosaic that the school is well known for on a wall facing
the Seventh Avenue side will remain. The composition and subject of the new mural
are still being decided, according to Lee.
As Lee stood in front of the children and parents on the first day of the new school year,
in the newly-refurbished playground with the old mosaic behind him, he acknowledged
the efforts of many in creating the best possible learning environment for students.
“It is vital, for a school to be successful, to have community and family support.
There are no excuses, ever, at McCoppin, for not giving you whatever your child needs,”
he said. “We strive to give your children what they need to succeed. Not everybody gets
taught the same thing. Everybody learns in a different way. We know that. We
acknowledge that and we are here to work with you.”