School opening breeds familiarity

Wednesday kicked off Evergreen, Hockinson, La Center, Ridgefield districts




It was a morning of rituals: Both those already well-worn, like a pair of comfortable shoes, and brand-new routines established with tiny, tentative steps.

Classroom doors swung open again Wednesday at Ellsworth Elementary School, along with all other Evergreen district buildings and those in the Hockinson, La Center and Ridgefield districts.

Within a half-hour, veteran teacher Penny Baz led nine wide-eyed kindergarten pupils, a few already fidgety, down the main hallway on their introductory tour.

“This is called ‘Lost and Found,’ ” Baz explained. “Every day, somebody forgets a coat or jacket. So, when I tell you to go check at Lost and Found, this is where to come.

“Say it with me: Lost … and … Found,” Baz intoned, and her pupils obeyed.

They made acquaintance with Ellsworth Principal Jerry Evans and the frontline school secretaries, Nancy Olson and Christine Johnson, who deftly juggled the first-day blitz.

“We’re happy to have you here. You’re all Panthers, now,” Evans told the small group.

Moments later, Baz showed off the carved, wooden Panther mascot in the main display case. She demonstrated the “Panther pat” — make a claw of one hand (with a tiny growl, if you want!), then reach over and pat your shoulder, reward for a task well done, she said.

After a peek into the nurse’s room and school gym, it was back down the hall to Room 6, again. Past corkboards brightly decorated with every student’s name, and paw prints — lots of paw prints — outside each open homeroom. Inside, teachers led their charges through proper rules and etiquette, sometimes with song or a clapping rhythm to cement the lesson.

“It’s still exciting for us, coming in, when you see all the kindergartners come in, and their mothers taking pictures,” said Evans, in his seventh opening day at the Ellsworth helm.

No, he didn’t need the alarm to pop out of bed on time Wednesday.

“This is just a great community school,” Evans said. “When you think of the Ellsworth community, this is it.”

It’s a welcoming campus, no doubt.

Classic sand-colored brick and shiny tile floors; Wanda, the wispy blue Betta fish, in her office counter-top tank. A large mural of local flora, fauna and human history (the great blue heron easily outsizes half the Ellsworth student body); the sturdy plaque that marks “Erected 1958,” next to class photos of school faculty that inaugural year (nine in number), and from each 10-year point forward (31 faculty and staff members by 1999).

Not quite an Ellsworth fixture that long, but with a lifetime of helpful experience, is Belva Baz.

Now 88, Belva has volunteered for five years in Penny Baz’s classroom, coming twice a week to help her daughter, any way she’s needed.

Belva chuckles over one student’s description: ” ‘There are two Ms. Bazes in the room, and one of them has a lot of wrinkles,’ ” she recalled.

It’s good tonic to keep her engaged after decades of Red Cross work and then nursing her sister through a cancer battle, Belva reports. The new year brings the chance to catch up with Penny’s former students, who materialize elsewhere on campus after the summer break as larger, wiser versions of their old selves.

“It’s wonderful to see them grow up. They’ve gotten so tall,” said Belva, who grew up in Iowa but graduated as a proud Camas Papermaker.

Her daughter can use the boost. Wednesday marked a “Smart Start” soft opening, Evans explained, with only the first nine students attending. Another small group breaks in alone Thursday, followed by a third on Friday. That’s 26 students total for Penny’s class, a daunting amount.

Fortunately, Evans has an empty room stacked with desks for an additional, third kindergarten section, if even two more late pupils are registered, he said. Baz’s load would then drop sharply.

At the front desk, Amber Loop signed just such paperwork for her newcomer daughter, Catherine — a first-grader. Looking on was little sister, Michelle, 3, still years from school.

An Oregon transplant, Loop found only on Tuesday while checking online that Evergreen’s year began the very next day, she said. Just in time, she drove Catherine to Ellsworth.

Still, Thursday will signal a true new family era, the start of a daily drill.

“I haven’t had to get a kid up early and get her on the bus, yet,” Loop said.

Howard Buck: 360-735-4515;;