Displaced Salem Students Start School Year in Former Catholic School

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SALEM, N.J --After unpredicted safety issues arose last September, the Salem City Middle School was shut down, forcing the school district to move students to temporary classrooms around town.

While work has begun, the public school is still not ready to open.

Early Thursday morning, Sept, 7th, Salem City middle schoolers tightened their shoes and zipped up their backpacks before heading into a new location to learn.

Again.

Last September, a ceiling collapsed at the Salem City Middle School, forcing the district to make some quick, temporary changes that the superintendent says were less than ideal.

“We quickly got our kids into secure locations, with the idea that they’d be there for weeks, not months,” said Dr. Amiot Michel, superintendent of the Salem City School District.

“But that was a wrong estimate — I guess — because it winded up being months.”

The students were spread out among combined classrooms in three different locations for the remainder year.

With help from state and local officials, the former St. Mary’s Catholic School will house 3rd, 5th, and 6th graders this school year, starting this week.

“You see in the eyes of these kids a sense of optimism,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-3rd District), deputy speaker of the New Jersey State Assembly. “First, it’s a different building for them, but you also see teachers being very welcoming. They’re coming into a safe environment.”

According to the Camden Diocese, St. Mary’s was closed as a school in 2000.

I’m glad that we’re in a better situation, however, I have to continue to insist we need a new school, we need a Pre-K to 8th [grade] school in this district.

Recently, the Mid-Atlantic States Career and Education Center occupied the space before the eager faculty, staff, and students became the new tenants.

“The school looks better than we have anticipated,” said Michel. “[With] bulletin boards, colorful bulletin boards welcoming the kids, making them feel safe, and making them feel ready to learn.”

“A lot of them are happy,” said Felicia Ouida, after dropping her great grandson off for his first day. “They’re excited. And that’s what I saw this morning, excitement.”

Although there’s plenty of excitement surrounding the middle-school students starting their first day at St. Mary’s, the superintendent said that he hopes one day soon to secure the funding for the district to build a brand new building they can call their own.

“I’m glad that we’re in a better situation, however, I have to continue to insist we need a new school, we need a Pre-K to 8th [grade] school in this district,” said Michel.

According to Michel, work has begun fixing the Public Middle School building, but he has not received a timeline.

New Jersey State Senate President Steve Sweeney said he is aware the district needs a change, and would like to secure that in the next round of funding.

“The other school that had the issue will be fixed this year, so the kids will be moved back,” said Sweeney. “But we’re going to be advocating for a new building because it’s required and needed.”

But until then, summer is still out, and school is back in.

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