The first bell of the day hadn’t even sounded at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School and Principal Tony Hack had already worked up a sweat.
As students and many parents arrived at the school Monday, stepping off buses, jumping out of cars and walking up the sidewalks, Hack welcomed them all as they entered the building.
He shook hands, accepted hugs and dished out high fives and made sure each student had a wristbandthat signified how they were to get home at the end of the day.
“It’s going to be a great year, guys. Are you ready?” he asked students.
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Although hectic, Hack said, he’s been looking forward to the first day of school for a few weeks now.
“Principals started two or three weeks earlier, and it’s been a busy time for us; but it’s time for kids to be in the building again,” he said.
On paper, the school has 600 students enrolled, with about 100 of those being kindergartners, Hack said. But he expects that number to fluctuate some in the first couple of weeks.
A large number of the school’s students are Hispanic, and many speak little or no English. Although a challenge, teachers find creative and fun ways to reach every student to make sure they feel welcome, Hack said.
To handle the growing number of students at Brown, a $2 million, four-room classroom addition was completed this summer. The new wing houses four kindergarten classrooms.
“With the new addition, we are a true four-section K-through-5 school now,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier or any more proud of what we’ve got here at Brown.”
Four-section means there are four classrooms per grade.
The Seymour school board is discussing spending another $1 million at Brown to renovate interior spaces at the school for security and improved usage. Focus areas include the media center, the old kindergarten classrooms and other spaces.
Kindergarten teachers couldn’t hide their excitement and pride Monday in showing students their new rooms. The walls were covered with posters showing letters, numbers and colors. There were shelves of books ready to be read, cubbyholes for backpacks and even toys to play with at certain times of the day.
“I’ve never had this much space in my entire teaching career,” teacher Chata Toppe said.
With a much larger classroom, Toppe said, she was able to set up learning stations for reading, writing and listening, which she will be able to keep out all year instead of having to put one up to set up another.
“It’s so much better because the kids will have access to them all the time,” she said.
She is in her 35th year of teaching, but even after that long, it’s always new on the first day, she said.
With wide eyes, students entered the room, some excited and ready to play and learn, others hesitant with tears in their eyes.
Toppe said she’s used to seeing a few tears, including those from parents, but it doesn’t take long for kids to adapt to new surroundings and a new routine.
“After things settle down, they see how much fun kindergarten is,” she said.
Hack said another positive change this year at Brown is more time for students to spend in special classes such as art, music and physical education.
“We’re increasing the time from 30 minutes to 40 minutes,” he said. “We think it’s something the kids will like and will benefit from.”
Third-grader Paradice Brown said she was ready to find her classroom and meet her teacher Monday. She already has friends at the school, but there are always new kids to meet, she said.
“I hope I have a good teacher,” she added.
Paradice said she expects to learn a lot this year but wouldn’t mind if the homework was kept to a minimum.
Mariah Santiago, 7, and her brother, Daniel Santiago, 5, got to enjoy breakfast at the school with their mother, Maricella Santiago, before heading to their classrooms.
“My baby is growing up,” Maricella Santiago said, ruffling Daniel’s hair. “I’m sad, but I’m also excited to see them learn.”
Daniel said he thought kindergarten was going to be fun, especially going outside for recess if it didn’t rain. He also was looking forward to eating lunch, reading books, singing songs and playing games.
For Toppe, it’s her students’ excitement for learning that has kept her teaching all these years.
“Their excitement gets me excited,” she said. “And how many people get as many hugs in a day as a teacher? Why would I want do anything else?”