Teachers lined the hallways at Fruit Valley Elementary School on Tuesday morning, eagerly welcoming a tiny cascade of students on their first day.
Though some remained reserved — either reasonably anxious for the new year or equally reasonably tired in the early morning — most students returned greetings with a smile, and some with a hug for their favorite teachers and administrators.
“Are you guys ready for the new year?” asked Jen Dukes of her students passing by.
“I sure am!” chirped a particularly eager student beelining for her classroom.
“It’s so good to see so many new faces,” said Dukes, the achievement coach at Fruit Valley. In her new role, she’ll work with teachers in implementing and unpacking new curricula. “Not just new faces, but faces in general,” she added, referencing a lack of required face masks for students.
Tuesday was the first day of the 2022-2023 school year for students in Vancouver Public Schools and across Clark County. This year, while the signs of the pandemic still remain, teachers, students and community members alike feel as if it’s their first chance at a typical beginning of a school year since 2019.
“This isn’t just a new experience for kindergartners,” said Dukes. “Even for second-graders, this is their first year in a school building with no social distancing, no masks, no remote learning. They’re really excited, you can tell.”
Finding their footing
Even with the sensation that this school year is the new leaf people have been seeking, teachers and school officials are reminding community members that pretending the pandemic is fully in the rear view mirror isn’t the correct approach.
“We’ve learned you really have to be flexible,” said Dave Warner, Fruit Valley’s fifth-grade teacher. “We’re moving to learn how every child learns, and moving away from that one-size-fits-all model. There’s different approaches to take with each child, especially now.”
Though now in his 20th year of teaching, Warner said the challenges of the pandemic did a lot to prevent him and other teachers from getting short-sighted.
“It’s really easy to get stuck in routines. But kids change. Society changes. We change, too.”
Across the district at Discovery Middle School, students chaotically filed into the building as one might expect on a first day. For sixth-graders, however, it was actually their second day.
On Monday, sixth-graders at Discovery and across the district participated in KickStart, where they were able to familiarize themselves with their new school building and semi-adult schedules without the distraction of seventh- and eighth-graders.
“In the morning, the kids were quiet and reserved, as you might expect on a day like that,” said April Whipple, Discovery’s principal. “But by the end of the day, they had opened up to be those typical energetic sixth-graders you might expect.”
As kids started to settle down and make their introductions with classroom teachers, Whipple said she couldn’t help but feel optimistic.
“Last year, it took far longer for kids to warm up. It feels like we’re closer to where we should be at this point.”