School’s return presents opportunity, new challenges in Summit
Strands of party balloons fluttered in a light breeze Thursday morning as the first school bus pulled in at about a quarter after 8. Blue-and-green adorned staff stood out front to greet Silverthorne Elementary students with smiles and high-fives.
A crowd of youngsters, first through fifth grade, began to form at the main entrance that displays a banner welcoming students back with the slogan “Bear Strong,” a reference to the school mascot. Parents snapped photos for their scrapbooks and Facebook walls to commemorate the start of school in Summit County.
Fifth-grader Kyah Quam, only days from turning 10, arrives a few minutes later with her mother Shawn. Like many of her peers, she’s donning a new outfit — a feline-print, rainbow-colored dress given as a gift by her grandmother — to go along with her fresh hairdo. The black kitten-ear headband and cat-themed kicks complete the look.
Some students are fending off yawns — one even complains of having had too much coffee — but not Kyah. The Summit County native and Wildernest resident is primed and ready to take on the day, skipping from location to location as children are ushered around the grounds before arriving to the first class.
While others happily play foursquare and tetherball out on the blacktop, or hit the swing sets, Kyah drops her oversized blue hiking pack with its multiple patches and other plush ornaments in the line where kids will meet their homeroom teacher. She spends her time chasing friends and jumping in place with unrestrained anticipation — even if she’ll admit later the presence of some mild nerves.
“I’m really excited, but I’m really scared for the year, too,” she said. “Because it’s starting to get harder and I’m going to be in middle school next year, so it will be a whole different school. I’m ready for that, but Silverthorne is a good school and I don’t want to leave.”
Ignoring ongoing construction, students line up and march through a hallway. They’re greeted by a chorus of staff applause as they head upstairs, where classrooms for fourth- and fifth-graders are situated. Single file, before entering the doorway to their scholastic home for the new academic year, each newly christened fifth-grader repeats after their new teacher: “Good morning, Mrs. McFarland, I’m ready to learn.”
Almost as fast as they hang up their book bags and deliver their tissue boxes to the back of the room, the class returns downstairs to attend their first elective, physical education, in this whirlwind first day. Other so-called “specials” include music, art, French, International Baccalaureate and a collaborative setting called makers space. For now, though, the rain keeps the students in the gym playing tag and variations on rock-paper-scissors.
Next, with the full class properly energized, Liz McFarland broaches a concept to her students: Starting today, they’re the big kids on campus. With that responsibility comes the duty of leadership. Over a pre-lunch snack — Kyah enjoys a baggie of sliced radishes, pulled from her cat-themed lunch pail — the class learns the democratic process they’ll undergo in order to produce classroom rules, a constitution and each day’s seating arrangement.
Gone are the days of the traditional desk and cubby — no need for much storage for each pupil’s personal laptop — and below the day’s dry-erase schedule, the whiteboard poses the contemplative prompt, “Where will you sit today?”
Options range from inflatable exercise balls, padded milk crates at tables, a classroom beanbag chair and standing desk with high chairs. A plastic storage bin that McFarland used to keep her summer wardrobes, converted to include a writing surface, is nicknamed “the boat.”
With a three-branches-of-government mobile hanging from the ceiling overhead, the kids appear tickled over the newfound freedom granted by a more flexible seating model. The innovative concept of different chair stations for different preferences is reinforced through a Sesame Street sing-along streamed via YouTube and a reading of the children’s book “You Be You.”
The lecture on leadership was buttressed with McFarland’s plea that her student’s commit to being silly and goofy, but also to be kind and supportive of each other and to never be afraid of making mistakes. In other words, being Bear Strong.
“Bear Strong means three things to me: Being respectful, being responsible and being safe,” principal Joel Rivera said during a short classroom visit. “You have the chance right now as fifth-graders to be that role model for the people around you.
“That’s what being a leader is about, making people feel welcome and making people feel accepted.”
Lesson plans and science experiments awaits these fifth-graders, as does the eventual transition to the middle school. The daily musical chairs of the classroom will suffice for now.
“I feel like that’s really good, but also kind of intimidating since we’re all like the oldest in the school,” said Kyah. “And it’s also just nice to be the one the younger kids look up to because you get to be a hero for a littler kid, and that’s pretty cool.”
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