Being a creature of habit, I enjoy the familiarity of the elementary school environment and the ebb and flow of the school year.
After a total scrubdown by a dedicated janitorial staff over the summer, the school buildings gleam with polished floors, shinning bathrooms and mowed lawns. Teachers are anxious to get into their classrooms and start unpacking supplies so that they can have their rooms up and running before the students arrive on the first day of school.
Students eagerly wait until the end of summer to find out who their teachers will be for their next year at school. Teachers earnestly take those lists of names and turn them into decorative door signs and name plates for the students’ desks. Classrooms are filled with supplies, books and just enough desks for the expected students.
Then there’s the exciting first day of school! The perfected classroom arrangements, the tidy bathrooms and the quietness of the hallways are all impacted as the buses roll in on the first day. Off come the children with expressions of happiness, anxiety, sadness or some looking like deer caught in the headlights. Some know their way around the school, some have visited on “meet and greet” events, and some are brand new students unsure of where to go or what to do.
But, we are there waiting for them. The teachers, secretaries, parapros, special-education teachers, counselors, social workers, speech pathologists and school psychologists are all there to help them. We know the routine.
Within a half-hour of the start of the day, all students are where they belong.
And now here come parents enrolling their students on the first day of school.
It never fails that we have new students being enrolled on the first day of school. This means the principal, who has already balanced the classrooms, has to find just the right classrooms for these new students. The teachers have to quickly request more desks, write out new desk labels, re-alphabetize their students, label another locker and keep smiles on their faces as they welcome these students to their classrooms.
While that scenario is playing out, there will be a few of the youngest students still crying because they want their mommy or daddy. We all team up to help the teachers get these little ones settled down.
Then, just as the tears are drying, someone will be down at the office with wet clothes from a spill at breakfast or wet pants from waiting too long. Our office secretaries delve into the "extra clothes" closet, try to find a good fit in dry clothes for them, assist them in changing and bundle up the wet stuff to be sent home in a plastic grocery bag.
Newly enrolled students and returning students may be coming to school with medical conditions that need to be supported during the school day. There are students with food allergies, asthma, ADHD, depression, anxiety, insulin pumps, diabetes, migraines, broken bones, hearing aids, heart conditions, etc.
Since most school districts no longer have school nurses, building principals make sure that secretaries and teachers are trained to deal with students who have life-threatening medical conditions. Secretaries are trained to receive medications from parents, log in amounts and times of needed dosages, store all medications in a double-locked secure area, and then distribute medications throughout the day — making sure students receive them at the correct time and in the correct amount.
In any classroom, teachers are preparing lessons to accommodate a wide variety of student abilities. In any given classroom, students may vary in age by as much as two years. Students’ math and reading skills may extend from below to above grade level. This presents the challenge that teachers meet every day in developing lessons that engage all of their students and help develop skills at the level the student is at. Teachers may have the support of reading or math specialists, special-education teachers, or individual mentors for these students.
Just as sure as the school year rolls along, there will be a variety of standardized assessment tests given to the students. These assessments provide information on skills and abilities of the individual students. Building principals and teachers collaborate to find curriculum that meets the needs of the individual students, and continues to move them ahead in their learning from where they are at to where they need to be.
When the results of these assessments are published and school districts are ranked, ordinarily it undermines the efforts of public educators to educate all students.
Public education students come from a wide variety of socio-economic factors that impact what skills and abilities they bring to school with them. There may be students coming from shelters and students coming from mansions. Some students have traveled the world and some have never been out of their hometown. Some students’ parents may have Ph.D.s and others never finished high school. Some have cupboards full of food and some have no food or cupboards. Some parents participate in PTO, helping with homework, reading with their children — and some don’t.
Regardless of the diversity of students’ abilities and backgrounds, we in public education are there year after year welcoming all students. Some things never change, and for that I am thankful.
— By Janice Beuschel, Tribune community columnist