Lots of beginnings on first day of school

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 28, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Trexler Cloninger’s 6 a.m. wake-up call Monday was probably the worst part of his day.
“I was freezing cold and tired,” he said. “I got zero sleep last night, my stomach was eating me inside out.”
The sixth-grader was a ball of nerves awaiting his first day at Southeast Middle School.
“It’s a new school so I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “And I just don’t like when summer ends.”
Cloninger wasn’t the only sixth-grader anxious about Monday.
Classmate Briana Saelinger said her mind was racing as she stepped into middle school for the first time.
“Friends, school work, how I’m going to get to every single class,” she said. “I’m not really worried about it, I’m just curious.”
Brodey Hogan said he’s both nervous and excited about becoming a sixth-grader.
“I’m nervous because it’s a new school and all the seventh- and eighth-graders are here,” he said. “But I’m also excited because it’s a new school.”
Classmate Olivia Gregory shared that sentiment.
“It’s cool being in middle school, but I don’t know many people from elementary school so that part is scary,” she said.
But Gregory said she does dread the prospect of waking up early for 179 more school days.
“It was easy today because I was pumped,” she said. “This morning I was thinking ‘Oh no, I’m going to have to do this all year.’ ”
Sherry Lyerly-Tarner, a sixth-grade English teacher at Southeast, said she’s always nervous about the first day, even after years on the job.
“I’m also excited,” she said. “I always look forward to working with the kids and getting to know them. It’s kind of a neat thing to get a fresh start every year.”
Lyerly-Tarner eased some first-day fears by giving students a tutorial on how to decipher their schedules and answering any questions they had.
“One of the things that we like to keep in mind for sixth-graders is that this is an introduction to middle school in general and it can be very overwhelming for some of them.”
Getting intothe swing of things
Extra precautions are taken on the first day.
“We try to keep it very simple,” Lyerly-Tarner said Monday. “They’re not going to change classes, they stay with their home room teacher all day so they can get more comfortable with the building and take a tour.”
The students got a chance to meet their teachers during a meeting Monday afternoon and were given agendas to help them become more independent.
But after the first day, Lyerly-Tarner said teachers will get down to business.
“After we give them a feel of the basics, we begin right away with instruction,” she said. “My students will learn about plot and short story first.”
Lyerly-Tarner said she was drawn to work with sixth-graders early in her career.
“Middle school is such big time of change for them and they need people who care to get them through the rough path,” she said.
Principal David Miller, who took over the top spot after Skip Kraft retired at the end of June, said the first day went smoothly.
“I’ve taught middle school in the past, so it’s exciting to get back to this age,” the former Millbridge Elementary principal said. “With middle school, there is kind of a new experience every day.”
Miller welcomed students to school Monday by standing outside the front door. That’s something he plans to continue doing throughout the year.
“I try to greet the kids and their parents because I want to create relationships with them,” he said.
Miller said he has high expectations for both students and staff at Southeast. But he’d also like to see more parental involvement.
“To be honest, we can’t do this without our parents,” he said.
More than 25,000 public school students in Rowan County and Kannapolis returned to class Monday.
Destiny Miller said she’s ready to start fourth grade at Knollwood Elementary.
“I want to make new friends, meet my teacher and learn,” she said while waiting for her bus on Miller Chapel Road.
Mixed reactions
But Destiny’s classmate, fifth-grader Najimy Torrence, had the opposite feeling.
“I don’t want to go,” she said. “I’m not ready for summer to be over.”
Jamiya Alexander, a junior at West Rowan High, said she’ll have to wake up at 5 a.m. every day to catch the bus.
“I’m not happy about it,” she said. “We should at least be able to start school after Labor Day.”
Parent Lora Hale said she was happy to see the start of another year.
“I’m ready, it’s been a long summer,” she said. “I’ve got eight kids so it’s nice to have six of them going to school.”
Hale walked her anxious second-grade son, Peyton, to the bus stop Monday.
“They get bored during the summer so they are glad to go back,” she said. “Three of my children are going to a new school.[0x13] I have a kindergartener, a sixth-grader and a freshman in high school.”
Principal Kelly Withers said opening day at Carson High School went great.
“I’m always excited, I love the first day of school,” she said. “We talk about that as a staff often, that excitement that comes every year … we’re always glad to see the kids come back.”
Withers said the school administrators stood in the atrium to greet students Monday.
“We’re all there at the front door just to say good morning and welcome back,” she said.
The school’s enrollment is up by about 40 students to nearly 1,180.
Withers said the only big change facing the school this year is the same one schools across the state will be tackling — the new common core curriculum.
“Our staff is really excited about the possibilities,” she said. “It definitely changes the shape of instruction, but so many of our teachers have already been using components of it.”
Math teachers are especially looking forward to the change, Withers said.
“It’s really taking a practical, hands on approach,” she said. “We’re hopeful that students will be engaged and their achievement will be higher.”
But Withers said the biggest push is for retention of subject knowledge.
“There is a lot of regression over the summer,” she said. “We’re hoping this hands-on approach allows them to really hang on to the information.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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