Students flock back to class as summer vacation ends | SierraSun.com

Students flock back to class as summer vacation ends

Andrew Cristancho
Sierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunStudents get off the bus at Kings Beach Elementary for the first day of the new school year.

“Donde esta el osito? … Where is the little bear?” sing 20 kindergartners as they walk single-file through the yellow brick halls of Kings Beach Elementary School with their teacher on the first day of school Wednesday.

A cool and sunny morning greeted more than 4,000 students who showed up for their first day of fall classes at the 11 schools of the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.

At Kings Beach Elementary, 5-year-old kindergartners were led on a stuffed bear hunt to familiarize them with the school grounds: They searched for a fuzzy stuffed bear in the bathrooms, in the halls and inside classrooms as instructor Tara House spoke to the children in Spanish.

House’s kindergarten class will be one of 10 popular dual-immersion classes the elementary school will offer through fifth grade this year, perhaps one reason enrollment is up at the Kings Beach school.

“We’re up 90 students from last year,” said Principal Eileen Fahrner.

Although the school’s low standardized test scores have improved for four years, Fahrner said administrators intend to improve test scores and to continue providing students with “a great educational program in a supportive environment.”

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Many teachers are enthusiastic to get to know the students and provide a healthy place to learn.

“[The first day of school] is just magical,” said second-grade teacher Amy Meierotto. “I think they get a lot of pride entering a new classroom. These memories last a lifetime. I still remember my second-grade teacher.”

At North Tahoe High School and North Tahoe Middle School, enrollment is slightly down from last year, but $50 million in renovations have made the campus more attractive, with glossy floors and a modernized interior. Principal Bill Frey presided over an inaugural brunch session Wednesday in the school’s dining commons, confiscating an orange water gun and joking with high school seniors and staff members.

“This first day of the dinning commons is a big improvement over last year when they [kitchen staff] were serving in the hall,” Frey said.

The cafeteria offers food like bagels, quesadillas and breakfast burritos along with Gatorade products and water.

The school will undergo academic scrutiny next April when a group of independent educators will come to evaluate the school. The delegation will study all aspects of the school’s curriculum, and administrators hope to receive Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation, a coveted peer-review recognition that assists schools and district to establish priority areas for improvement, Frey said.

The first days of school are very important, said North Tahoe Middle School Assistant Principal Nauman Zaidi Wednesday morning as he patrolled a school hall.

“The first two weeks are vital to establish rules and guidelines and establish relationships with the students,” Zaidi said. “If you lose them in the first two weeks, it’s hard to get them back.”

The mood was light during lunch Wednesday in the teachers break room at Truckee High School. Many instructors joked about the newly installed bank of windows that can be seen from Donner Pass Road. Installed at 4 p.m. Tuesday, some of the windows did not open on the first day of classes.

“This year a disadvantage [at Truckee High] is the ventilation,” said global studies teacher Kurt Smart.

On a serious note, culinary arts instructor Renee Weller said Truckee High School has achieved much in the past but faces new challenges.

“We improved in every state testing score, and our challenge is to increase them by the same percentage this year,” Weller said.

Galen Riggs, a 15-year old Truckee High sophomore, said he felt good about the day.

“It’s better than last year ” I feel like the same guy, but I’m not a freshman,” Riggs said as he headed to class after the lunch bell.

In a late afternoon e-mail, Interim Superintendent Jo Lynn Wilson said the district eagerly anticipated the first school day of 2007-08, and welcomes new and returning students alike.

“I would like to wish each student a year of motivating learning, exciting experiences, and satisfying relationships with school staff and friends,” Wilson wrote. “We are all prepared to do our best to make that wish come true.”

Tahoe Truckee Unified School District serves three California counties ” El Dorado, Placer and Nevada ” and encompasses more than 720 square miles.

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At North Tahoe High School, allotted lunch and brunch times are tight. With 15 minutes for the early snack time and 30 minutes for lunch, students barely have enough time to stand in line. On the first day of school when the bell rang signaling the end of snack time, five students remained in line waiting to buy a muffin or bag of chips.

“It went really well but it was the first day,” said school cook Jane Jones. “We only have four staff and one has to monitor the line.”

That’s because some children have a tendency to cut the line while others wait patiently. Jones added that children take a while deciding what food they want because they cannot always see the selections in the display case.

“It’ll probably change, but I don’t know to what,” Jones said. “The lines were long today and the kids couldn’t see the selections.”

Food service supervisor Skip Piechocinski said he thought the first day went well, although the waiting lines will need more organization to get the bugs worked out. One student had a ready answer.

“They need more people selling food,” advised 14-year-old North Tahoe High sophomore Carly Vincent.

The supervisor said part of his plan was to stop monitoring students.

“I’ll be back to serving food to [staff],” Piechocinski said.