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Beulah Middle, Elementary Schools Opening for 2018-19 School Year

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

Students whose families live in the Navy Federal area of Escambia County are gearing up to attend two brand new schools.

Members of the media gathered at Beulah Middle School’s main lobby area on Wednesday, taking in that “new school smell.”

The school is 205,000 square feet under one roof  and cost $45 million, funded by the Local Option Sales Tax. Eventual student capacity will be around 1,200.

The first stop on the tour – led by Assistant Principal Marietta McCaskill – was a state-of-the art gymnasium for the Beulah Bears.

“In our gym, we are the first middle school to have ceiling fans,” said McCaskill. “We also probably have the best-sounding gym of any school in the district. They’ve done an excellent job with the sound system.”

The school will have the same sports as do the other middle schools: basketball; volleyball, track and field, and swimming. Also offered are archery and a running club.

The land – an abandoned airfield – was purchased by the District in 2015 for two million dollars. Speaking at that time, Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said the school would be part of the district’s answer to the booming population growth in that part of Escambia County.

“A lot of that growth obviously is being created by Navy Federal (Credit Union)’s expansion, all of the homes that are coming online,” said Thomas. “We know that means more student population.”

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Marietta McCaskill, Assistant Principal at Beulah Middle School.

Fast-forward back to Wednesday’s tour. Next stop, a classroom area that is divided between rooms for instruction and labs.

“The good thing is that some of the kids can be working in [the classroom] and some can be working in [the lab], and the teacher can see them through both sides,” McCaskill said. “In this school, there are bathrooms in every classroom. We have a hallway that connects you to your suitemate.”

The 6th-8th graders will also be able to practice their robotic skills, in a high-tech classroom with instructor Kenneth Atkinson.

“We’re going to have seven, 3-D printers,” Atkinson said. “The kids fabricate everything; the wheels, the tires, the heads, the arms. We compete in the ‘Best Robotics’ at UWF, and high schools and other schools. And we also do the SeaPerch Underwater robots.”

From there, the walk-through included music rooms and stage; cafeteria, the Innovation Center, and – after wading through some unopened boxes -- the Personal Development Room. Teacher Mollie Martin says that course is mandatory for seventh-graders, combining home economics, health, and life skills.

“We cover everything from manners, to family, to tobacco, drugs and alcohol; human sexuality,” said Martin. “How to set a table through to nutrition. It prepares them for job careers, how to do interviews, and we even learn how to design a house.”

Martin also runs Beulah Middle’s “Capturing Kids’ Hearts” program.

“It begins by really getting to know the kids; getting to know what they need, meeting their needs on a personal level,’ Martin said. “We make social contracts rather than rules. As a class, we sit down and come up with the way we want to treat each other and the way we’ll handle conflict.”

Between the start of construction at Beulah Middle School in 2016 until now, there have been a number of school shootings across the United States. But Assistant Principal Marietta McCaskill says there were no changes in the school’s design or construction because of them.

“No; absolutely not,” said McCaskill. “You could tell when you pull up you cannot get close to this building. It’s impossible to get a car or a truck close to the building itself. It was purposely designed that way.”

Meanwhile, work is ongoing at Beulah Elementary School on Kingsfield Road -- construction there began after the middle school project -- but it’s also scheduled to be open for classes in August.