The school year got off to a fast-changing start for Rhiannon Paoletta, 7, who moved with her family to San Carlos Park from Naples and started at Rayma C. Page Elementary School two weeks ago.
Being the new kid on the block — for both Rhiannon and her school — wasn't easy. Page Elementary, too, braved the roller coaster ride, fighting to keep up with transportation problems and an ever-expanding student population. Oh, and convincing parents that south Lee's newest elementary school looks and feels nothing like the building that used to house the Kmart at Alico Road and U.S. 41.
"I know that they were all sold out so they closed the Kmart and redid the inside," Rhiannon said. Now, she says, "it looks beautiful and wonderful."
More than a month into the school year, parents, students and teachers gathered one evening last week to bring it all together. Students had even learned the new school song, composed by a teacher for the occasion: "Dolphins Swim at Rayma Page," which highlights the school's motto.
The open house brought parents into school classrooms with their children to meet the teachers, many of whom are as new to Southwest Florida as the parents themselves. Since Page Elementary is a new school, it has taken nearly all of the recent newcomers to south Lee. The school also has a group of young — and enthusiastic — teachers, many who recently graduated college and moved to Florida from northern states.
Physical education teacher and former Illinois resident Steve Sears tackled his first few weeks of teaching with almost no equipment — the shipment came late, leaving him with just a few bean bags and the scorching August heat to entice students into exercise.
"The first week we did a lot of stretches, a little tag games, whatever I could come up with," he said.
While waiting for the new soccer balls and other traditional P.E. equipment to arrive, Sears got creative. He invented a bean bag game in which students would separate into teams, move into corners, run to the middle of the room to collect a bean bag and then dash back to the corner.
"They loved it," Sears said. "We may play it again later on this year."
Some parents who moved to the area said the school was their first choice because it was new, not in spite of it.
Terrance Coley, who moved to Fort Myers from Tallahassee, said the school's location is perfect for picking up and dropping off his son, T.J., on the way to work in Estero.
"I figured it would have the newest technologies," Coley said.
T.J., 6, was more focused on the basics: Reading is his favorite class.
"I like reading," he said. "I like eating. I like the playground."
With just more than 500 students, the Page Elementary's population has doubled in just a few short months. The fledgling Parent Teacher Organization is hoping that boom will benefit the group.
"It's a new school and parents are coming from every which way," said PTO President Quinn Tinkoff. "I never expected the size of this school ... it's so enormous."
She and her family live in Three Oaks and watched the progress of the school as it was transformed over the summer after moving from Naples. But they never knew they would be attending it.
"Yeah, the school had kinks to work out to begin with, but I think most of them have gotten worked out," Tinkoff said. "The facility is so amazing, the teachers are so dedicated, the principal is outstanding. For a new school, they seem to be really on the ball."