Teachers busy preparing for school’s start
Karen Helmlinger stood in front of her mountain of supplies, stacked high against her cabinets. She’d had to move all her classroom materials to one area at the end of the last school year, allowing the custodians to clean her room. In two weeks’ time she will need to have the heap assembled and dispersed throughout her classroom — ready for the kindergartners’ first day of school on Aug. 13.
“I like color,” Helmlinger said as she looked across her bare classroom, planning its layout.
Helmlinger pointed to one wall. She said she plans to decorate it with a calendar and bulletin boards. Helmlinger has been teaching for 22 years. She is one of several Berryville Elementary School teachers who showed up Monday — the first day the school was open for teachers — to begin preparing for the new academic year.
“We’ve been hitting it hard today,” Helmlinger said
Although the teachers are not required to come to work until Monday, Aug. 6, several of them were busy, preparing their classrooms for the coming school year, said Wendy McClellan, the Berryville Elementary secretary.
“Some of them are just anxious to get back into their classrooms,” McClellan said.
Next week, the teachers will start professional development days, where they will learn new teaching strategies and other procedures. But McClellan said parents will also stay busy before school starts because the district will have several key activities for them before the school year. Registration for new students will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 2 in each building. Parents who haven’t enrolled their kindergartners are encouraged to come by anytime and get their students signed up for class, and kindergarten to fifth-grade parents can drop in for open house from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9.
For kindergartners, the first few weeks of school will be all about learning to follow procedure, fourth-year kindergarten teacher Jennifer Kartes said. On the first day of school, only the kindergarten girls will come to class, and on the second day, only the boys will come to class. With fewer students on the first two days of class, this gives the teachers more time to evaluate each student and see what learning level the student is at, Helmlinger said.
Kindergartners often come to school with drastically varied levels of learning, Helmlinger said. Some may come in with no knowledge of the alphabet, and some might already know how to read.
“It just kind of depends on what happens at home before they come,” Helmlinger said.
The teachers also must prepare for changes to their curriculum. Helmlinger said they will be teaching a new reading curriculum, the Reading Initiative for Student Excellence or RISE Arkansas. The program will help kids learn to read phonetically.
Teachers like Brittany Latting, who is teaching a new grade, are adjusting to even more changes. Latting, who will teach first-grade special education, taught third-grade special education for the last three years, she said. For now, she’s working on arranging her classroom.
“It always seems a little daunting at first,” Latting said.
Once school starts, Latting will focus on learning about first-grade needs, which can vary from child to child.
“Sometimes you just have to get to know the kid to get their needs,” Latting said.
Although counselor Kandra Ness doesn’t have a classroom to prepare, she too has a lot to do before school starts. She has been calling all new student families who moved into the district over the summer to let them know who their teacher is.
Custodian Jackie Robinson has also stayed busy. Before the teachers got back, he and other custodians waxed the floors, which involved dry scrubbing them to get previous years’ wax off, wet scrubbing, mopping and applying the wax. After the wax stayed on the floor for 72 hours, the staff also buffed the floors, which Robinson said “sounds kind of like a motorcycle except you can’t ride it.”
Since the custodians finished the floors, they’ve been re-cleaning areas after construction and finishing tasks they hadn’t gotten a chance to yet, Robinson said. The custodians also have been moving teachers’ furniture where they want it.
“We don’t like for them to drag stuff over our polished floors,” Robinson said with a laugh.
Throughout the week, teachers and the rest of the staff will continue preparing the elementary school for students’ arrival.
“This is going to be very, very busy, and it’s mainly going to be organizing, making sure to get the right feel and look to the room,” Kartes said.