Students at Greenbelt Middle School will have more than new notebooks and pencils Aug. 20, the start of the school year in Prince George’s County.
The 972 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders will be walking into a new building full of new furniture and new technology, the only new building opening in the county this year. Science students will be able to get hands-on lessons on the school’s plant-covered green roof. Students will have an opportunity to take graphic design classes or culinary arts or television production, opportunities not available in most county middle schools.
“We want to expose them to as much as we can, as early as we can,” said Principal Warren Tweedy. “When they get to high school, they’ll be ready for advanced levels.”
The new $32 million middle school has facilities that some high schools in Prince George’s County lack, like the television production studio and separate rooms for chorus and band. Ninety percent of the classrooms have Smart Boards — interactive white board systems that also serve as projectors — and those that do not are equipped to use similar portable technology.
School board member Peggy Higgins, who represents District 2, which includes Greenbelt, said the new school will stand as an example of how things have changed in Prince George’s schools.
“People have questions about our middle schools,” Higgins said. “There’s a perception of Prince George’s County Public Schools that we aren’t performing well, and that’s an old perception. This is a concrete example of how things have changed.”
The only unfinished business will be the athletic fields, which should be ready to use in November or December, Tweedy said. Until then, students will use the gymnasium for physical education class. The school does not have a competitive sports program that needs the fields.
With 143,277 square feet in two stories, a capacity for 1,089 students, the building is the third school in Prince George’s County to be designated Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED. LEED means that the building is designed to be energy efficient, with sustainable features on the property, including a storm water retention garden.
“We’re able to take advantage of anything and everything green in the school,” Tweedy said, adding that those elements would be incorporated into the science curriculum.
The new school is built adjacent to the old middle school building, parts of which have been in use since 1937. Parts of the former building are being renovated and preserved, and could house another, smaller school or a community center, according to a statement by school officials.
Amy Hansen, PTA president at the school last year who has a son going into the sixth grade at the new school, said the new building will be a big step up from the old facility.
“The administration will not have to worry about supervising such a maze of a school,” Hansen said of the old school.
Hansen said she has not yet been inside the new school, but has followed the construction process.
“It’s laid out in a much more logical way,” she said.
Over the past two years, as the land was cleared and the new building started taking shape, students have been involved in the process, watching from the old building, Tweedy said.
“For the [incoming] eighth-graders who were here as sixth-graders when this all started, they’ve seen the whole process,” Tweedy said. “This is big deal, and they’re very excited.”