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Pierce schools are back in session
Arbuckle Elementary School was bursting at the seams when classes opened Tuesday.
More than 600 students entered the doors, about 50 more than last year.
The exact enrollment numbers for the other Pierce Joint Unified School District campuses were not available, but overall the district attendance figures are believed to be up.
That is good news for new Superintendent Ernest Sopp, who replaced Pat Hamilton after 41 years with the district, the last nine as superintendent.
Sopp comes to the job from the Mountain Empire Unified School District east of San Diego, and spent most of his first day hoping from one campus to another.
"Teachers are teaching and students are learning," Sopp said.
Generally speaking, the reports from various campuses were very good.
Arbuckle Elementary Principal Carol Geyer admitted it was strange not having Hamilton around on the first day of school, but said things were going well.
For fourth-grader Matthew Reyna, 9, however, the first school bell came about a month too early.
"(Vacation) went by too fast," he said.
It did seem that the teachers, and there were five new ones on campus, seemed a bit more excited about school starting than their pupils.
"It's always exciting," said Kristen Carter, a fourth-grade teacher and six-year veteran on campus. "It's a new year with new students."
The San Diego native could have done without the heat, however, a complaint of some parents who don't understand why school has to start so early.
That seasonal annoyance aside, Carter said a new year always comes with new challenges, and none more this year than adapting the new statewide standards to the school curriculum.
She said it is also a challenge to quickly learn how individual students learn.
"It's important ... because kids don't learn the same way," Carter said.
Geyer, who has been principal at the school for eight years, said there is a definite emphasis on teaching students how to think in the new standards.
So a lot of time and effort goes in preparing teachers to work with that in mind.
"Are teachers asking questions that require the students to think?" she noted.
But the first thing on the plate Tuesday was to settle the students back into a kind of comfort zone, and then turn them loose on the classroom material next week.
"They may not be getting a lot of instruction academically this week, but they will get into a routine and learn how to behave," said Geyer, who was very pleased with how the students presented themselves on day one.
One of the things the school did differently this year was switch the order of recess and lunch for the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders.
Last year, lunch came first, and Geyer said the students would rush through their meals or not eat at all just so they could get out on the playground as fast as possible.
This year, they play first, eat second. They were drilled on the routine Tuesday.
When the books crack open, fourth-grader Kyle Howell prefers science — but not just any science.
"I kind of like the outdoor science, like how long it takes water to evaporate and the stages of water evaporating," he said.
His two classmates Justin Mathews, 9, and Hunter Scott, 9, said math was their favorite subjects, and each particularly enjoy multiplications.
The school also has transitional kindergarten classes for the first time.
Geyer was hesitant to judge the value of the state program that holds younger children back a bit longer before starting school officially, but thinks overall it will be good.
"You will see a difference in the actual kindergarten classes," she said, explaining how traditionally there would be a number of 4-year-olds mixed in the classrooms that will not be there now.
Parents do not have to enroll their children in the program if they do not want to, but Geyer said it is a way to get introduced to the structure of school without the same expectations.
They will learn how to count, and their letters and some basic reading, but will not have to master the skills like kindergartners do.
"I think it will be a good thing," she said.