From letters to lockers, menus to routines, metro kids jumped into school.
An early jump on reading
On Tuesday morning, LuAnn Wood's preschool class at Earle Brown Elementary School in Brooklyn Center learned to find their seats by the first letters of their names. They learned to sing a song, read the pictures in a book, raise their hands, walk in a line and sit criss-cross on the rug.
By late morning, only a handful were too distraught to participate in class activities. Adult volunteers were there to console them, "just for laps and hands to hold," said Community Education Director Michelle Trelstad, who predicted that all students would adapt to the routine by week's end.
As of the first day of the school's new all-day, five-day-a-week free preschool program, about 60 students, all from the district, were enrolled in three all-day sections and two half-day sections.
The Brooklyn Center district is increasing its preschool offerings, and aligning literacy from preschool to third grade and on into secondary school thanks to a three-year, $3 million grant from the McKnight Foundation and state literacy aid.
During class, Emmanuel Tapia Fraire's brow furrowed as he wrote out all eight letters of his first name in green marker.
"You have been practicing this summer," Wood observed to a beaming Emmanuel. "And you have a long name!"
Fruit or veggie?
The new federal requirements prompting schools to offer more fruits and vegetables don't faze Braeden Brown.
"My favorite vegetable is broccoli," exclaimed the third-grader at Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School. "I like it when the school serves it, I order it at restaurants, I eat it at home. It's really good."
Unfortunately for Brown, broccoli wasn't on the menu Tuesday. But students could pick from chopped pears, oranges, carrot sticks, strawberries, whole-grain pizza and steamed corn.
The new school lunch requirements adjust portion sizes for students of different ages, increase daily fruit and vegetable servings and set a limit on protein, breads and grains.
At Robbinsdale, the new requirements won't radically alter the school's offerings because the school has been stressing the importance of fruits and vegetables for years, said Penny Brakken, the childhood nutrition manager.
The new requirements, however, did prompt cafeteria workers to remind students to select a fruit or vegetable if they haven't by the time they make it to the cash register.
For the most part, kids didn't need a reminder. They gave enthusiastic forks-up to the menu, especially the pizza and fruit.
Jon Gabora, who brought a Nutella sandwich for lunch, said he had planned on bringing food from home for the first couple of weeks but was rethinking the decision after seeing what the cafeteria was serving.
"I'd eat that stuff," the third-grader said.
A new school for sixth-graders
At the Pearson Sixth-Grade Center, all 600 students were new. The Shakopee School District decided to place all of its sixth-graders in one school building starting this year.
The students, who came from the five existing elementary schools in the district, spent the day learning the school, memorizing their schedules and working to master opening a combination lock on their new lockers.
"It's going pretty good," Juan Espinoza said as he watched a teacher demonstrate how to work the lockers. "The only thing I don't like is the lockers. They're kind of confusing."
School officials, who spent more than $4 million refurbishing Pearson and other buildings as part of a realignment of the district, believe the uniformity at Pearson will help kids socially and academically by allowing them to dip a toe in the junior high or middle school waters.
The center is run like a junior high, with rotating periods, new teachers every hour and unassigned lunch seating.
Teacher Shelly Smith, who has been teaching sixth-graders for more than 25 years, said grouping them all into one building will lessen the social pressures and possibly increase the academic performance.
"It puts them all on the same playing field," she said. "They don't have to act older for the older kids, and they don't have to brag or put on an attitude for the younger kids."
A new leader learns too
Before classes began at Oak Park Elementary School in Stillwater, Ginny Kruse made her way around the school, marveling at sights she said she rarely saw at the district's high school.
Parents snapping pictures of children against the school's brick backdrop. A special-education student hugging a classmate as she got off the bus. And inside the gym, a little blond-haired girl sitting cross-legged for the assembly with a raspberry-and-orange ballerina skirt ruffled out beneath her.
Kruse, the district's former director of curriculum and instruction, stepped into a new role as principal this year, her 41st and final year as an educator. And for the first time, she's working at an elementary school.
In the gym, the glitches came on her first day, but Kruse, the veteran administrator, worked them to her advantage, putting in practice a lesson for educators: "Be flexible. Adapt." And when you can, pull the kids into the action.
Learning that she had erred while typing out the words to the school song, she acknowledged the mistake, and then the students sang.
They corrected her, too, when she mistook the school's mascot, "OPie (Oak Park)," for a squirrel, not a chipmunk. Then the new principal, seeking to summon the voices of nearly 500 children, repeated:
"OPie. Not a squirrel but a ..."
"Chipmunk!" they exclaimed.
Lessons learned, all around.
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