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BLOOMINGTON —While all the schools in Normal-based Unit 5 were affected by redistricting this year, the schools with the most challenge to blend students and establish an identity were its two new elementary schools.

Cedar Ridge Elementary School in south Bloomington has some new students; but the bulk of its population came from nearby Brigham Elementary School, which was converted to an early childhood education school.

The transition was made easier because the principal and many staffers simply moved across U.S. 51 to the new site. However, they did create a new identity with the Cedar Ridge Rockets and the parent group – the Rocket Boosters.

A big boost for students —75 percent of whom come from low-income families — is the Promise Council. It is composed of community members who help students by eliminating “roadblocks” by providing whatever is needed — be it as a mentor, a pair of shoes, school supplies or an eye exam — that make a difference for kids, said Principal Geoff Schoonover.

Everyone was also new at Benjamin Elementary School in east Bloomington so Principal Marlys Bennington started to connect last spring by visiting the six elementary schools that would be sending students to the new building. She gave them Benjamin Bear pencils, and welcomed them. Future students had input in choosing the school’s mascot, and attended get-acquainted activities in the summer.

Early on, Bennington created a transition team to help everyone come together. Staff members brought old prom photos for display in the lounge, which helped bring the 45 employees together.

The Benjamin PTO leadership council has also bonded. It includes parents from all six feeder schools, who share ideas from their former schools without mentioning the old school by name. Such efforts foster unity, said council member Denise Schuster of Bloomington, who has three children at Benjamin.

 “It has been a really good year,” she said. “Everybody is in the same boat.”

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