Opening Day at Pine Hill Elementary: Hanlon & Deerfield Students, Staff Come Together


Photo courtesy of Westwood Public Schools. On the playground, a student takes a trip down the slide on the first day of classes at Pine Hill Elementary School, while in the foreground, another student looks on.

Thanks to Westwood Public Schools for contributing this news to Westwood Minute.

Excitement was in the air when more than 400 Westwood students entered the doors of the new Pine Hill Elementary School for the first time on Tuesday, February 27.

“Today was fantastic,” said fifth-grade teacher Katie Ennis on the occasion. “The morning was just buzzing. Everyone was buzzing with excitement – teachers, students, and staff. Outside on the playground, you could just feel how excited everybody was and the building and the space are both just gorgeous.”

“Today was an incredibly exciting day, said Timothy Piwowar, Superintendent of Schools. “This obviously has been years in the making. These new buildings are a labor of love, and it certainly came through today.”

The opening of Pine Hill has been years in the making, prompted by the deteriorating condition of the Hanlon and Deerfield Schools that were built in the 1950s. The process began with a 2015 Master Plan/Capital Needs Study. Westwood was later accepted into the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which provided construction parameters and funding for the project. From the beginning, Pine Hill was imagined as “a school in the woods” for its environmentally friendly attributes and connection to the natural environment, and a school for the entire community, with playing fields and a large gymnasium for all to use. Opening day couldn’t come early enough for some Westwood families.

Photo courtesy of Westwood Public Schools. On students' first day at the newly constructed Pine Hill Elementary School, students play outside.

“We got back from Florida at about 2 this morning to make sure that we made it for the first day at Pine Hill,” said parent Nadine Kariotis. “We know how important of a day it was, and we didn’t want to miss out on all of the excitement.”

Kariotis’ son Teddy is in the third grade and had previously been a student at the Hanlon School. “I thought today was very good,” said Teddy Kariotis. “It’s very big, but I didn’t get lost. We kept talking about it at the Hanlon all the time, so I already knew where everything was.”

Teachers spent the first day after winter break settling into their classrooms before students returned on Tuesday. Fifth grade teacher Amy Hayes previously taught at the Deerfield School.

“I actually tried to make my classroom look as much the same as possible coming over, so it looked familiar to the kids,” said Hayes. “I put the same things up on the walls, but with the added bonus of everything here being new and beautiful.”

One of the main design elements at Pine Hill is a collaborative learning space located in each grade wing. Teachers say they put those spaces to use on the first day.

“I love the space that we share as a fifth-grade neighborhood and the way we were able to collaborate today,” said teacher Kim Pestana. “We gave the kids time to mingle and socialize with each other and I could just sense the excitement from the kids and from us, too.”

With any new space, there are minor kinks to be worked out. Parents, for example, will need time to learn the ropes of morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up. Also, the gym can’t be used for another week or so, until the floor is fully cured.

Principal Josh Baumer said he is excited to watch students and teachers take full advantage of all Pine Hill has to offer. “A couple of weeks ago we were in here with a small group of teachers for a meeting,” said Baumer. “We were walking around and looking at different spaces and I said, ‘I’m not worried about students and teachers coming in and messing things up. I’m more worried about them being hesitant to use the space.’ I feel like the magic of it is going to be people messing around and grappling with it.”

Tours of Pine Hill will be offered on Friday March 8 between 4 and 7 p.m. The official ribbon cutting ceremony will be held on April 5.

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