Teachers, parents and excited young students gathered on the playground of Harney Elementary School Wednesday morning to send the newest batch of Hornets into the new school year. And they didn’t let a tiny bit of drizzle stop them.
“Bye, I love you!” said one father to his daughter across the basketball court. She turned back and gave him a thrilled smile and big wave.
Some students got a head start on recess, as they were already playing tag on the slightly muddy grass. One girl ran up to her friend and they embraced, talking excitedly about their summer break.
The first-day-frenzy continued all the way up until the bell, when students lined up single file and their teachers ushered them into the building for a school-wide assembly.
“You can’t do a community school without community,” said Principal Steve Stoll, gesturing to the crowd of families. As Harney Elementary rings in the new school year, Stoll said he’s excited to bring back some of its long-standing traditions, like choir and after school clubs.
New year ahead
Wednesday was the first day of school for the 2023-2024 school year at Vancouver Public Schools, as well as neighboring Battle Ground Public Schools, the Ridgefield School District, the Hockinson School District and the La Center School District.
Evergreen Public Schools and the Camas School District were closed Wednesday amid teacher strikes prompted by stalled contract negotiations. Both Camas and Evergreen teachers are negotiating for smaller class sizes, support for special education programs and inflation-based salary adjustments.
Both Evergreen Public Schools and Vancouver Public schools changed their bell schedule after research suggested later start times for older students have long-term mental health benefits. In turn, elementary schools in Vancouver now start bright and early at 8 a.m.
During the pandemic, Stoll said it was harder to stay connected with students and their families. This year, Harney wants to continue prioritizing family involvement.
“Every year is different with new challenges,” said Stoll. “One of the things we really want to see more of is, how do we reinvolve our families in community schools?”
Teachers at Harney Elementary are equally optimistic for the new year.
Third grade teacher Adam Hirsch has been an educator for eight years. He plans to incorporate project based learning, flexible seating plans and community building activities into his classroom this year. One of his first lesson plans involves building effective communication skills for students.
“In my class, our first project is about how what you say influences your environment,” Hirsch said. “Teaching has taught me the importance of community and personally, how much I value being in these kids’ lives.”
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