There’s something special about the first day of school.
“The best part of the first day of school is seeing the kids,” said Smoky Hill High School Principal Chuck Puga, as he greeted dozens of students by name, asked how their summer was and welcomed them back. “School first and foremost is about relationships. Everything else is important, don’t get me wrong, but if you can’t have a relationship with a kid… you can’t understand what they need to be successful.”
Students across the Cherry Creek School District reported for the first day of the traditional calendar on Aug. 14, officially kicking off the 2017-18 school year. Tearful parents bid farewell to first-graders just starting elementary school, and high school seniors launched their final round of classes before graduation.
“I’m super excited,” said SHHS senior Anshu Mohan, who is president of the Class of 2018. “I’m excited to do something that I’ve looked forward to since freshman year and lead our pep assemblies, our homecoming and Wish Week and things like that.”
Chiara Frank, one of 560 freshmen in the SHHS Class of 2021, was also filled with aniticipation.
“I feel excited to start at a new school, make new friends and just start the exciting high school experience,” Frank said.
No matter their grade level or school site, however, the thousands of CCSD students shared a similar feeling of excitement, one tied to a new set of possibilities and a fresh sense of clean slates. It was a sentiment that Pine Ridge students felt in July, when they began classes at the school’s sole four-track campus, and one shared by those at seven transitional schools across the district.
“We should never underestimate the importance of the excitement that our children feel as they return for their first day of school,” said CCSD Superintendent Dr. Harry Bull, after dropping off his own children at Creekside Elementary on Aug. 7. “In my household, my 8-year-old was ready before 6 a.m.”
The first day is also a time of excitement for teachers across the district, who welcome a new class and embark on a fresh set of lesson plans.
"I'm excited, and looking forward to a great school year," said fifth-grade teacher Cindy Unger before Creekside Elementary welcomed their students back on Aug. 7. Unger kicked off her twenty-third year at the school. "I'm excited to work with students and welcome new members of the classroom family. It's fun getting kids ready for their journey to middle school.”
As the only year-round school in the district, Pine Ridge welcomed students from its A,C and D tracks on July 10 for their first day of school, while B track students returned in August. This is the last year Pine Ridge will operate on a year-round schedule. The opening of Elementary #44 next year will coincide with Pine Ridge's shift to a traditional calendar.
"It's really fun -- we get to do everything twice," said Pine Ridge Principal Diana Roybal, adding that the year-round schedule doesn't affect the students' excitement for the first day. "There's still that freshness, and the kids make it fun. They're the essence of what makes starting a new year special."
Students and parents shared that sense of excitement as kids reported to their first classes in July. Ryan and Demarie Tacke dropped off 7-year-old O’Malley for classes at Pine Ridge on July 10, and spoke of the benefits they’ve experienced as a four-track family.
“It’s been extremely positive,” Demarie Tacke said. “We’ve kept up sense of school mode. I didn’t even cry today for the first time. O’Malley knows everybody and is comfortable.”
“Seeing his excitement makes it easier for us,” Ryan Tacke added.
Both Ryan and Demarie said they’ll be ready to adjust next year, when the school shifts to a transitional calendar. What’s more, they’re excited about the change in start times for the 2017-18 school year. This year, elementary schools will start at 8 a.m. and release at 2:45 p.m., high schools will start at 8:20 a.m. and release at 3:30 p.m. and middle schools will start at 8:50 a.m. and release at 3:45 p.m. These changes were carefully designed to offer adolescents and teens a later start, and specifically to provide them with added sleep that research has shown to be so critical to development and learning. SHHS senior Anshu Mohan is looking forward to the later start.
“No matter what, I’m always going to fall asleep at the same time each night,” Mohan said. “So it does give me that extra hour to get ready and feel a lot better for first period instead of being tired and groggy.”
“I think it’ll be easy to adjust,” Pine Ridge parent Ryan Tacke said. “It’s going to be a positive change for us.”