Students begin a whole new year

Published 10:42 pm Tuesday, September 3, 2019

By Alex Perry and Jimmy LaRoue

Music and bubbles were in the air for the first day of school at Creekside Elementary School Tuesday morning.

Students stepped off of eight buses with their backpacks and lunchboxes in hand. Faculty greeted them at the bus ramp with small bubble machines and Disney hits playing from a boombox.

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Teachers wore orange and gray Creekside Elementary t-shirts and called out names of students they recognized. The students smiled and ran up to them for hugs, as songs from the movies “Frozen,” “The Lion King” and “Aladdin” played during the commotion.

It was also “A Whole New World” for many of the school’s 775-or-so students. Logan Pruett, 5, was starting his first day of kindergarten and his sister Juliana Brandt, 8, started third grade.

“I’m excited to play on the playground,” Logan said.

According to his mother Amy Pruett, there was a lot of excitement early Tuesday morning.

“They got out of bed (early) and got dressed and ready to go,” said Pruett about Logan and Juliana. “They’re very excited to be here. Very hyper.”

There’s a lot of organization that goes into the first day of school, according to Creekside Principal Tara Outland. That includes a focus on teaching Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, to encourage good behavior at the school.

“This week, planning for the opening of school, our teachers have planned to make sure that they teach the rules, routines and procedures,” Outland said. “That way the rest of the year is smooth sailing.”

It’s also important to make Creekside as welcoming as possible for students and parents alike.

Art teacher Sarah Perrel chalked the walkway in front of the school with positive decorations, and teachers greeted students at their classroom doors to start building good relationships with them.

“When you build relationships with students, then students rise to the occasion, so we’re really working hard (on that) this year,” Outland said. “A lot of our planning prior to the start was on building relationships with students, knowing that they all come from different backgrounds.”

That takes a strong, combined effort between Creekside Elementary’s 100-or-so staff members, she said.

“It’s not a one man show, it’s a team effort, and here at Creekside everybody jumps in and helps,” Outland said.

At Hillpoint Elementary, the first day of school was evident Tuesday morning, with cars parked along Hillpoint Road as parents walked with their children to the school – its parking lot full more than 30 minutes before the official start of school at 9:25 a.m.

Most families strolled into the school with their children, as they were allowed to walk them to their class on the first day. Staff in the front office, as well as principal Catherine Pichon and others, greeted students with festive Happy New Year hats and smiles all around.

Students entering the school walked past the Husky motto – “Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Safe,” and their new wall of mirrors, with affirmations such as “I believe in myself,” “I am changing the world,” and “I have many gifts and talents,” among the dozens posted for students to absorb.

Brandie Hall gave hugs to both of her children – Mason, who is starting the first grade, and Tara, beginning the fifth grade – before taking them inside.

“It’s her last year here,” Hall said of her daughter, entering fifth grade this year. “Then we get to start all over again.”

Pichon was excited to greet her staff and students on the first day.

“We’re thrilled,” Pichon said. “It’s been a great, great opening. It’s just been smooth, the whole process, getting ready. Teachers are energized. We’re ready to roll.”

She was waiting on the last two buses to arrive at the school. The last one arrived at 10:08 a.m., with the children walking off the bus and into the school to the sounds of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”

Pichon said this year’s theme is “we care,” which can be found throughout the school.

���We’re big on ‘we care,’” Pichon said. “So we want to let our students and our parents know that we care. (Care) stands for Virginia’s five C’s, the A for accountability, relationships for the R and ‘E’ for equity.

Virginia’s five ‘C’s’ include developing skills in critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creative thinking and citizenship.

Before she hustled off in her self-described Energizer Bunny mode to another part of the school, Pichon noted that Hillpoint would continue to focus on its morning meetings, putting them in the school-wide schedule.

“It’s going to be a lot of building relationships, family engagement – we want to increase our family engagement – and just holding each other and our students accountable,” Pichon said. “So that’s really been the focus, and that’s what we’re focusing our professional learning on throughout the year as well.”

As the last few students were trickling into the building, Pichon said it was important to get the new school year off to a positive and happy start.

“We want to make it a big party,” Pichon said. “We want to everyone to be happy about the new year.”

Across the Suffolk Public Schools division, every school principal received a visit by either Interim Superintendent Dr. LaToya Harrison, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Dr. Suzanne Rice or Director of Elementary Leadership Pam Connor, who welcomed them back with donuts to share with their respective staffs.

In a statement, Harrison said the new school year is off to a great start.

“We are so grateful for our dedicated administrators, teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria, maintenance and other support staff who have been working hard all summer preparing for the new school year,” Harrison said. “We are beginning the new year in Suffolk Public Schools with many facility improvements, increased technology, new programs and courses and an additional school-wide meal program.”

“We enjoyed welcoming our students back to school today and look forward to an exciting year ahead.”