Washougal school district is first in county to start classes

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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photoWashougal High School junior Sydney Niemi, 16, center, shares a light moment with a group of incoming freshmen, while guiding them on a tour of their new school Tuesday morning. Schools in Washougal and Green Mountain (Woodland) started classes Tuesday. Several Clark County school districts start Wednesday.

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WASHOUGAL — David Choi darted around the halls of Washougal High School Tuesday morning in search of kids whose lost expressions announced their status as freshmen. He was once the anxious newcomer. Now, directions to the school’s auditorium rolled off his tongue.

Choi and 38 other student mentors escorted the high school’s 220 incoming freshmen around campus Tuesday, pointing out classrooms, describing school activities and fielding other questions.

“Part of me is regretting the summer was short,” Choi, 17, said, as he paced the halls in his lime green “star mentor” T-shirt. “But I enjoy coming back to school and seeing my friends.”

The Washougal and Green Mountain (Woodland) school districts kicked off Clark County’s 2011-2012 school year Tuesday with elementary, middle and high school classes. The Evergreen, Hockinson, La Center and Ridgefield school districts were set to begin Wednesday. Camas starts Sept. 6, with Battle Ground and Vancouver schools starting one day later.

The beginning of the school year, while hectic, represents a regeneration of sorts, said Carol Boyden, one of Washougal’s two associate principals.

“You get really attached to these kids,” she said, noting Washougal’s relatively small class sizes allow teachers and administrators a chance to know students better than in larger districts.

Senior Tristin Collins, 17, shared his classmate Choi’s enthusiasm for the school year.

“I still remember when I was a freshman and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is going to take forever,’” said Collins, who sported a black mohawk on the first day. He planned to dye his hair pink for the upcoming wrestling season, he noted.

And what about Washougal High’s future Class of 2015?

They were a jumble of excitement and nerves. They also gained the distinction among mentors as the Washougal class with the most diverse hair colors, associate principal Gordon Washburn joked.

“This is much bigger than Canyon Creek (Middle),” Alondra Bradley, 14, observed, noting her first-day jitters were under control.

Henry Peterson, also a Canyon Creek alum, pondered whether high school would be as difficult as advertised.

“I’ve heard it was blown out of proportion, and that it’s just a step up,” Peterson, 14, said, adding he anticipated football practice and meeting his new teachers.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend; www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com.