Bloomfield trailers solve overcrowding; Lady Liberty staying in Harrison

Photos by Ron Leir/ ‘Learning cottages’ stand at the ready awaiting students.


By Ron Leir


From all appearances, Rhiann Van Kersen’s sixth-grade math session at Franklin School seems to be your typical elementary school class.

Sitting at their desks, children are paying attention to Van Kersen as she writes out a problem with fractions on the wall-mounted smart board and then raising their hands to answer the questions she poses.

It’s the same thing at Gregory Murray’s sixth-grade language arts class, next door, where youngsters look to be involved in the lesson of the day.

However, there’s one factor that separates – figuratively and literally – these kids from the rest of their Franklin School mates.

They’re in trailers – or as Franklin School Principal Marianne Abbasso prefers to put it – “learning cottages.”

While the portable classrooms are on school property – they stand on the Irving Street side of the school’s sprawling fenced-in asphalt parking lot/play area – they are physically disconnected from the school building.

A third trailer unit, part of the portables cluster, is reserved for instrumental music classes that rotate in and out, by grade level, during the school day.

When children leave the trailers for the main building, a teacher aide provides escort service.

The trailers, outfitted with air-conditioning, were purchased for $1,000 apiece from the Phillipsburg school district. Each is designed to hold as many as 35 students.

So why the cottages?

“Our population has steadily increased over the past three years,” Abbasso said.

Last year, as the district was preparing for the portables, Schools Supt. Jason Bing said that Bloomfield has been impacted by the migration of “a lot of families” from Newark and the Oranges.

Enrollment at Franklin School, housing grades K to 6, is now at 394, Abbasso said. No grade in particular experienced growth pains; rather, numbers of students “spiked generally across the board,” she said.

“Being one of the smaller elementary schools in the district and, with no room to expand within the existing school building, we needed the cottages,” she said.

And they arrived late last summer. It took time to link up electrical connections for utilities, phones, computers and alarms and to assemble wooden ramps and steps.

On Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, they were pronounced ready for occupancy and 49 sixthgraders were moved into two cottages earmarked for them while other classes rotated through the third. The day before, parents were invited to visit the facilities to satisfy their curiosity.

Their relocation opened up space that allowed Abbasso to split her second-graders into three sections, thereby balancing class size among that grade level.

Abbasso said the sixthgraders were chosen for the experiment, not only because they were the oldest students in the school but also because “it would be a great learning experience for when they move to the Middle School and have to become more independent.”

And what happened?


Photos by Ron Leir/ Rhiann Van Kersen teaches math to 6th grade class in trailer

“The kids adjusted beautifully,” Abbasso said. “It was a seamless adjustment. They actually wanted to get in there. It was something new and exciting. And their teachers are enjoying it, too.”

Although the sixth-graders spent 60% of their school day in the cottages, they’re not totally isolated from their peers in the main building, Abbasso said. The kids mingle with them for school assemblies, lunch, library/media sessions, art, music and gym classes.

For their safety, they also periodically practice fire drills.

And so it goes.

Meanwhile, Lady Liberty Academy Charter School – part of the Newark public school district – is looking to extend its stay at the former Holy Cross School in Harrison.

Mayor Ray McDonough and the Rev. Joseph Girone, pastor of Holy Cross parish, said the charter school is hoping to stay a second straight year in Harrison because the Newark site it wants to occupy isn’t yet ready to accommodate the school.

Girone said the extended stay is subject to approval by the state Department of Education.

Lady Liberty Academy first came to Harrison after its initial Newark location was found to have environmental problems and the school opted to move to a suitable nearby location. Its students are bused to and from the old Holy Cross School.

To get the former parochial school in shape to comply with state school codes, the parish – which has a lease agreement with Lady Liberty Academy – spent $40,000 to a portion of the roof and $7,000 on boiler repairs, according to Girone.

“We also put in new exit lights, we had to dig out and realign a 100-year-old bricklined sewer and we had to put encasements around radiators dating from 1916 in all the classrooms and hallways to make sure students didn’t burn themselves,” Girone said. “Those were all major expenses.”

Efforts to reach Hykesia Taylor, Lady Liberty’s business administrator, were unavailing.

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