Every school in Volusia County will look different as it welcomes students back for the 2020-21 school year, but George Marks Elementary School in DeLand, which is nearing the end of several years of construction, will look especially different.
Principal Shannon Young said she is excited for students to see the brand-new building.
“No one is coming in with expectations of what came before. It’s just creating our new normal,” she said. “I think everyone is feeling so excited to have such a fresh start.”
Young said completion of the new main building marked the end of Phase 2 of the campus construction plan. Phase 3, which includes music and art rooms as well as a new physical-education pavilion, should be completed in October.
Young has tried to ease parents and students into the school’s new layout. On Aug. 28, George Marks parents were welcomed to a student pick-up rehearsal to get a feel for the new traffic pattern. Young also allowed parents and their children to schedule appointments to walk through the building and ask questions.
“It’s gorgeous, and very conducive to learning,” said Courtney Coerver, a mother who toured the new facility with her daughter, who starts kindergarten this year.
“This is the school I went to as a little girl,” she added with a masked smile.
Her daughter, when asked if she was excited to start kindergarten, jumped up and said, “Yes!”
“Kids are so excited,” Young said. “I’ve had children say they can’t wait to come back, and as a principal, that means everything. We miss them.”
The original George Marks Elementary building, which opened in 1956, was demolished last year to make way for a more modern building. Students had to spend some time in portable classrooms, but with the start of the new school year Monday, Aug. 31, they will be back inside.
The old elementary school, with its outside walkways and largely disconnected buildings, has been replaced with a central, two-story building that connects classrooms to hallways to the cafeteria. Also new are study areas with murals and workspaces themed after different subjects, like a science room.
George Marks will welcome about 400 students to in-person classes this year, with another 100 students signed up for the Volusia Live program, which will stream classes live to students learning from home.
For in-person classes, Young said George Marks is closely adhering to the Volusia County COVID-19 safety standards.
Looking forward, Young said she is excited for the new cafeteria, which will be big enough to host productions and events.
“With COVID-19, we can’t do that right now,” she noted, disappointed.
Young said when things return to normal, she is excited for students and parents to see all of the new spaces and — when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted — to learn more about the school’s plans for collaborative spaces for theater and science, for example.