BRATTLEBORO -- When seventh-graders from Guilford step inside Brattleboro Area Middle School this morning, they'll be opening the door to a new educational era for both towns.
It will be the first time Guilford's middle school pupils will attend BAMS following a vote to tuition the town's seventh- and eighth-grade students to the larger, regional school in Brattleboro.
However, officials say Guilford's middle-schoolers won't be completely unfamiliar with their surroundings: BAMS administrators have been working for months to ensure that those students and their parents have had a chance to ask questions and to take a look around.
"We're very excited to have Guilford kids join us. I think the kids are going to settle in quite easily and nicely," BAMS Principal Ingrid Chrisco said.
Guilford's school board, after much debate and study, recommended that the town's seventh- and eighth-grade students attend BAMS. Officials cited declining enrollment and said the larger school offers more educational and extracurricular opportunities than Guilford could.
There also were cost savings affiliated with the move, which was approved by a majority of voters at Guilford Town Meeting in March.
Guilford Central School officials have been studying the idea of establishing a preschool in classrooms formerly used by middle-school students.
And BAMS administrators wasted no time in beginning to integrate Guilford's students into the regional school, holding an informational meeting for parents in Guilford little more than a week after the Town Meeting vote.
"That began, in earnest, our transition efforts to bring the students here," Chrisco said.
In April, those parents were invited to BAMS. The following month, BAMS staff traveled to Guilford to meet with the town's sixth- and seventh-graders, who also then toured the Brattleboro facility.
"We had a number of spring transition events before school even got out, all in an effort to help parents get their questions answered, help them feel comfortable about the big change and to help kids feel comfortable, too," Chrisco said.
The idea was that, by the time the previous school year ended, Guilford students had "a visual image of what this middle school is like and what they might expect, which just helps them alleviate a lot of anxiety," she added.
Over the summer, BAMS sent out several informational mailings to all parents of incoming students.
The summer also brought another chance to gain some familiarity with BAMS, as the middle school offered seven weeks of programming that included transportation and meals.
"Almost half the Guilford enrollees came, and we were delighted about that," Chrisco said. "I expect that next summer, we could even get more than that."
The summer program ended last week. The first day of school for BAMS seventh-graders is today, with eighth-graders to follow on Friday.
Chrisco said 27 Guilford students are expected at BAMS, which is more than initially projected. They'll be assimilated into a student body that, with Guilford's kids included, now numbers 261 -- 128 in seventh grade and 133 in eighth grade.
So the Guilford transition doesn't mean a big infusion of students at BAMS. Those 27 kids will be distributed among the school's four academic "teams," which are two educational divisions in each grade.
"Our class sizes are very reasonable -- extremely reasonable -- here. They range from 16 to 18," Chrisco said.
"When you take 27 students and you divide them into four teams, that's about 7 students per team," she said. "And then you take a team that has English, math, science and social studies classes all going on at the same time. It's about one and three-quarter students per class that we've added. So when you look at enrollment numbers, it really did not impact us in a significant way."
That's not to say, however, that Guilford's middle school students won't get a personalized greeting: BAMS each year invites seventh-graders and their parents to a "welcome-aboard breakfast," which is scheduled for this morning at 8:30 a.m.
This year, for the first time, BAMS officials also have scheduled a welcome meeting for eighth-graders and their parents.
"We have so many new eighth-graders," Chrisco said. "Not just Guilford kids, but other kids who have moved into the area."
The new Guilford students will see a few familiar faces: Former Guilford educators Sue Bos and Cathy Carter have been hired to teach math at BAMS. Both filled teaching vacancies at the Brattleboro school, Chrisco said.
Also, Chrisco announced that a Guilford tradition -- the Guilford Gazette -- will continue at BAMS.
The community newsletter had been produced by Guilford's eighth-graders and was distributed three times each school year. It now will be part of the BEAMS after-school program in Brattleboro and will be produced at least twice this year.
"We are going to pick that up and convert it to a BEAMS club," Chrisco said. "It's going to be taught by two people: The Guilford librarian, Cathi Wilken, is going to be joining up with one of our English teachers who is a Guilford resident."
"I can understand why they don't want to lose the Gazette," she added. "It's very important to them as a community."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.