Students and parents walked the hallways of the new Pathways Middle School for the first time Monday, exploring new classrooms and figuring out how to work the lockers.

Since opening in fall 2006, Pathways has operated in portables. Last weekend, the school moved into a new, 25,600-square foot building near the corner of Locust Grove and Ustick roads in Meridian.

“I’ll start crying, because I think it’s that emotional for us that we have a new home for the Pathways Pirates,” West Ada School District Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells said.

Pathways is an alternative middle school that offers smaller class sizes and helps fill in educational gaps for students who struggled to thrive in a traditional school setting. Pathways is not a placement program but an option for students who choose to attend, Principal Eric Eschen said. The school serves seventh- and eight-graders and will open to sixth-graders next year.

“Many came with deficits from elementary school, so how we fill in those deficits is the biggest focus of all,” he said.

Eschen has been with Pathways from the beginning.

“We were made up of portables,” he said. “We didn’t have a gym, and our art room didn’t have a sink, our assemblies were all held over at the school next door.”

The new school is on the same campus as the portables were, at 1855 East Heritage Park St., next to the Meridian Technical Charter High School.

Pathway’s new building has a capacity of 160 students. The average student-teacher ratio is 11:1. A traditional middle school in the district has a capacity of 1,000 students and student-teacher ratios between 18:1 and 24:1, according to the district's budget document.

Pathways also has fewer periods throughout the day, giving teachers 80 minutes with each class.

“I felt it would be better for me, a smaller school, less people, and not so chaotic,” seventh-grader Kalila Acevedo said. She went to Heritage Middle School last year upon returning from Italy, where her father, Steven Acevedo, was stationed with the Air Force for several years. 

"She was falling back a little bit because of the education and the language barrier," he said. "But here, she’s excelling."

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Pathways Middle School seventh-grader Kalila Acevedo was joined by her parents, Steven and Sarai Acevedo, as the school celebrated its first day in a new building Monday.

Eschen said middle school is a crucial time to intervene with students who are struggling.

"Middle school, it’s really the battle front," he said. "I used to be a high school English teacher, and I would talk to kids about where they kind of got off track, and it was in middle school. And if we can get them back on track now, then they’ll be fine through high school and beyond, and that’s our ultimate goal.”

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Pathways Middle School Principal Eric Eschen spent 11 years with the school in portables. Pathways moved into a new 25,600-square-foot building in Meridian on Monday.

THE BUILDING

The West Ada School District budgeted $6.3 million from its plant facilities levy to pay for the new building. The actual cost is estimated to be $5.65 million, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Joe Yochum said.

The new school has a gymnasium, a bright cafeteria lined with windows, a science lab and a “makers” lab for hands-on projects, Eschen said. Each classroom has a door to the outside so students can take a break for fresh air if needed, and there are various seating options.

“Kids can move around and stand rather than just being stuffed into a single combo desk,” Eschen said.

Physical science teacher Holly Redmon marveled at the heating and air conditioning system — a step up from baseboard heaters and window AC units in the portables.

“There really is no comparison,” she said. “We’re very, very fortunate.”

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Physical science teacher Holly Redmon is thrilled with her new science lab at Pathways Middle School.

Before, Redmon had half of a portable for her classroom and lab space, which included one large sink. The science lab connected to her new classroom has a sink at every work station.

“We’ve always done cool things,” Redmon said, “it’s just now I can have a bit more creativity with the labs I do.”

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Pathways Middle School social studies teacher Chris Spencer represents the school mascot, a pirate, on Monday as the school celebrated moving into a new building.

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Pathways Middle School's new building in Meridian has a gymnasium. The school operated out of portables for its first 11 years.

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Pathways Middle School in Meridian, which operated in portables for 11 years, celebrated moving into a brand new facility Monday.

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