OTTUMWA — Next year, fifth-graders from several schools around town will be funneled into Evans Middle School. On Tuesday, students from Horace Mann got a sneak peak.
"How many of you are nervous about coming to Evans?" asked Principal Dave Harper.
About 35 out of 45 students raised their hands.
"I guarantee you'll be less nervous after today," Harper said.
The children, two classes of fifth-graders, were in the school auditorium. Harper and guidance counselor Jerry Miller had already been on a tour of elementary schools introducing themselves to fifth-graders. Getting them to the building, one school at a time, said Harper, helps make the transition easier in the fall.
For years, Ottumwa elementary schools had K-6. Some parents expressed grave concerns when the district decided the junior high school level would begin at sixth grade. Even before the first sixth-graders showed up at Evans in 2009, the district said they had responded to parent fears.
A $12 million building project completed in 2009 not only gave the middle school more space, it gave district elementary school more space because an entire grade level was gone. But more importantly for parents, the expansion at Evans created a sheltered area for the children's first year at the middle school.
Sixth-graders have their own entrance, a separate sixth-grade wing, their own lunch periods. For the most part, Harper and Miller told kids Tuesday, they would not be interacting with the older kids. A few locations, like the counseling office and the media center (library), are common areas.
Ottumwa Superintendent Davis Eidahl in a previous interview said the idea to make EMS a sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade building started receiving serious attention in 2005; it was not a spur-of-the-moment decision.
One girl told Miller on Tuesday she was worried about getting lost.