A boy with black spiky hair darted in front of Laura Morris.
“Dr. Morris!” he gasped, breathless with excitement. “Look at my beard and mustache!”
The principal of Cesar Chavez Elementary School patted her student on the back and congratulated him on his excellent choice of face paint.
Thursday marks the end of the school year for Oklahoma City Public Schools and the end of the first year at Cesar Chavez, 600 SE Grand.
Students at the district's newest school marked the end of the year outdoors with field days, eating snacks, playing musical chairs and painting their faces with butterflies, mustaches and clown noses.
“We had an awesome year,” Morris said.
Chavez was a $9.7 million project, part of the $700 million MAPS for Kids initiative. The last new elementary school was Martin Luther King Elementary School, which opened five years earlier.
District officials expected about 650 students, but nearly 900 showed up. The school board adjusted Chavez's boundary lines to help relieve the pressure and send more students to surrounding elementary schools.
Some new students had to go to Capitol Hill Elementary School.
“There was no room for more,” Morris said. “We just didn't expect that many kids.”
Morris hired two extra kindergarten teachers, a second-grade teacher and a sixth-grade teacher. In January, she hired three more teachers for kindergarten, first grade and second grade.
“Kids love being here,” she said. “It's always noisy. They're always busy.”
Students came from surrounding schools. Some were new to the district altogether. A few were new to the country.
The challenge for Morris and her staff is to build a sense of community. It starts by building relationships with students and their families, she said.
“It's their school,” Morris said. “It's not just mine or my teachers' or Oklahoma City's. That takes time and more effort on our part.”
One thing that's helped has been the school's next-door neighbor:
Educare, 500 SE Grand, is a nonprofit early learning center that serves more than 200 at-risk children age 5 and younger. The center opened three years ago.
Teachers at Chavez and Educare share information about students and work together to identify goals for each campus, said Malana Means, director of early childhood programs at Educare.
“It just gives them more information so they can work with the child where they are right now,” Means said. “We know that improves outcomes in the end.”
Aside from sharing data, the schools share families. Several families have children at both of the schools. They live in the neighborhood. They're friends. Means said she expects the sense of ownership to grow.
“There are just a lot of good things happening in that area of the city right now,” she said. “I think it certainly makes people feel more a part of their community.”