BEVERLY — Amanda Giacometti watched as her daughter Leah, a fifth-grader, and son Isaac, a sixth-grader, walked into the new Beverly Middle School for the first time.

Not only is it a new school, but Leah happens to be in the first class of fifth-graders to move from the elementary schools to the middle school, which now includes grades five through eight.

Initially, Amanda Giacometti was nervous about sending her 10-year-old daughter to the middle school, which Mayor Mike Cahill noted is now the largest school in the city. The student population is greater than that of Beverly High School, which sends more than 100 students to the Essex North Shore vocational school in Danvers, accounting for its lower numbers.

But a tour of the new building helped calm her nerves. "That, I think, made a huge difference," she said.

Leah and Isaac were among hundreds of students returning to classrooms on Tuesday. All of the city's schools resumed classes, with the exception of grades 10 through 12, which had a "virtual" first day so that ninth-graders could become acclimated to the high school by themselves.

For fifth-graders like Leah, starting middle school meant a switch to team teachers – fifth graders are taught in two-teacher teams at the new school. She'd had the same teacher for the past two years in elementary school. But her mother said she was eager to try out the new cafeteria, and in particular, a space under one of the staircases where she really wanted to sit during lunch.

"I love it," Amanda Giacometti said of the new school, which includes larger classrooms, two cafeterias, an outdoor learning area, turf athletic field, a gym, an auditorium, and multiple spaces for students to collaborate on projects.

The old Briscoe Middle School has been declared surplus property, and Mayor Mike Cahill plans to issue a request for proposals to redevelop it. A variety of ideas have emerged, ranging from a hotel to affordable housing for senior citizens.

Cahill stood outside the new school on Tuesday welcoming students and parents.

While he was pleased with the way traffic seemed to flow smoothly in and out of the campus, Cahill said he wants to encourage kids to walk or bike to school, or take the bus, and reduce the number of car trips to and from the city's schools. When visiting Hannah Elementary School earlier, he noted, many students walked or biked.

Students can get the schoolbus only if they live more than two miles from school, however, and Cahill acknowledged that many parents would be reluctant to have their children walk more than a mile to school each day. For students who live closer to school, he said, it's important to identify the safest way to get to school, and to make sure those routes are easily accessible.

"It's something, I think, that's important," he said of alternative transportation."Well be having that conversation for sure."

Arianna MacNeill can be reached at 978-338-2527 or at amacneill@salemnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SN_AMacNeill. 

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