By Christopher Smith
There’s the difference between heaven and hell, joked Principal George Kopcsak; then there’s the difference between the old Eastbrook Middle School and the new one.
“The environment here is much more positive now,” said Kopcsak. “The teachers and students are excited to be here. The natural light and the large amount of space are huge differences. The old school was dark and dingy and we didn’t have many windows.”
Kopcsak spoke to several hundred students and faculty members at a ribbon cutting ceremony Monday morning to celebrate the new $24 million school’s first operating year, which started on Aug. 9. The ceremony was a success, said Superintendent Danny Hayes.
“It put the emphasis back on our students,” said Hayes. “The Eastbrook community is excited for opportunities that they might not have had at the old school. There’s no doubt that this is an investment. We invest in our children because they are our future.”
One investment — eighth-grader Ally Stanley, who started sixth-grade at the old school — said the difference between the buildings is “unbelievable.”
“It was kind of depressing before,” said Stanley. “It was really cramped in the hallways, the lighting was not good, there was mice and mold and asbestos. This year, we don’t have to worry about that.”
Another thing the students and faculty members won’t have to worry about in the new school are health-related issues, said sixth-grade science teacher Corey Orr, who taught at the old school for 10 years.
“By now, I would’ve gotten sick four or five times,” said Orr. “I’ve only been sick once this year. There is a huge difference health-wise and technology-wise. We have kids using iPads, working in open rooms and the change has made a tremendous difference. It is night and day. We are very happy to be in this building. The old one really was just that bad.”
Orr said one of the uses of the new school is the dividing walls in some classrooms that can be removed to merge multiple classes, although she said most teachers with large group projects bring the students out in the wide, naturally-lit halls to “merge into big groups and work together under the sun.”
Eighth-grader Michaela Shipman said working in the halls is “amazing. I love them. They are much bigger than our older ones; more than double the size.”
The new building houses a student body of about 650 and is divided into four parts designed to serve 200 students each; it is 120,000 square feet. School officials expect the student body to continue to grow.
The other thing that’s growing is a feeling of respect between the school and the community, said Whitfield County Board of Education Chairman Louis Fordham.
“For a long time the school felt like they were not important to this community,” said Fordham. “So when I hear students say how they appreciate us making them feel like they matter — well — that’s why we do this. We’re proud of (the new school).”
Kopcsak is also proud.
“This is a testimony to Whitfield County Schools investing in education,” said Kopcsak. “The community needed this.”