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First-day spirits soar at First Street Elementary School

By: Chayla Furlong The News Messenger
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At Lincoln’s First Street Elementary School, there were no absences to speak of on Tuesday, the first day of the 2008-09 school year. On the contrary, smiling returnees, nervous first-timers and little girls in pink were present in abundance. Though these typical first-day constants remain at First Street Elementary, this is a year of changes for the Western Placer Unified School District. Attendance area boundaries were redrawn for the elementary schools and the statewide education budget cuts have hit close to home. “The attendance area boundaries changed, which had us take in a lot of families, and we lost some who were switched to Creekside (Oaks) and (Carlin C.) Coppin,” said Principal Ruben Ayala. He originally thought the situation might be problematic, judging from parental requests that their children attend the school of their choice. However, the first morning went as planned for Ayala and his staff. “It’s been a little chaotic this morning, but that’s typical on the first day,” he said. “You don’t know what to expect, but when you have a great staff, things go really well. And I have a great staff.” Ayala isn’t the only one who felt the first day at First Street Elementary got off to a great start. The staff and faculty were in high spirits. “Every year, I look forward to the new batch of kids,” said Denise Greg, the instructional aide for Sue Wagner’s kindergarten class. “It’s like they are fresh little chicks that have just hatched.” Second-grade teacher Mark Bryant said he was looking forward to the challenge of incorporating the new students into his class and the school, and added that he was “grateful for the cool weather.” The state education budget cuts have affected the school, but not to the degree one might expect. According to Ayala, the three areas that have been affected are classified staff positions, clerk time and campus supervision. “As far as school is concerned, fewer eyes watching the kids — that’s not a good thing,” he half-joked. But other than the shortage of yard duty supervisors at the school, the children most likely won’t notice the effect of the budget cuts. “I think I speak for the whole staff when I say I think we’re going to have a good year,” Ayala said. “There’s no reason not to have one, and we’re looking forward to it.” The morning at First Street kicked off with an early start for the kindergarteners. Their classes started at 8 a.m., 15 minutes earlier than the rest of the school’s students. This year, the teachers and administration tried a different approach to the children’s monumental first day of school. Rather than have the parents try the drop-and-dash routine to “rip off the Band-Aid,” the school invited the parents to a 45-minute activity session that allowed them to slowly ease their children into the classroom setting. Kindergarten teacher Taryn Gordon began her morning with an enthusiastic, “Welcome to kindergarten! Bienvenidos!” Meanwhile, Wagner included the traditional “Good Morning Song” in the welcome to her class. Both teachers followed their introductions with the tale of Chester the Raccoon, a fictional children’s literature character who was scared to go to school. The story succeeded in the attempt to assuage the fears of the 4- and 5-year-olds. Out on the playground, the early arrivals for the other grades gathered to find their friends and chatter excitedly about their new school year. Some children cried, but that didn’t last for long, according to parents. “I’m doing fine, but my daughter’s feeling a little overwhelmed,” said Steve Peterson, whose daughter Amanda May will be attending the first grade. “But the teacher gave her a good welcome, and once she hugged her classmate, it was all over.” Fourth-graders and 8-year-olds Linzi Cummings, Jaida Sandhu and Cheyanne Calhoun were anxious to start their school year. All three girls are in the GATE program and switched to First Street Elementary to take the accelerated classes. “I don’t like summer, it’s all boring,” Calhoun said. She is excited that her brother is in first grade this year, and looks forward to being a big buddy for a child in a younger grade. The girls’ teacher this year will be Ms. Moya, described by them as “very smart and nice.” She gains extra points with them because “she puts on the talent show.” Cummings added that she was “very excited because I’m finally in fourth grade,” and Sandhu piped in, “I get to see all of my friends.”