Twality Middle School students celebrate the new year with barbecue

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Seventh-graders Chloe Stone and Novaly Householder review their class schedules during Twality Middle Schools back to school picnic on Tuesday night.Set your alarms and pack your lunches, school is back in session.

This week marked the return of thousands of students to the classroom in Tigard-Tualatin, but many of Twality Middle School’s students packed the school a day early this week for a first-of-its-kind all-school barbecue and ice cream social on Tuesday evening.

“I really wanted to bring the community together,” said new Twality Principal Carol Kinch as students zipped by with ice cream in hand. “We do a sixth-grade pizza feed for sixth-grade parents and students, but that wasn’t a community event.”

Kinch, who served as associate principal for two years before taking over for retiring principal Rick Patrick earlier this year, said it is important to create that sense of togetherness in a school and kick off the year with a celebration.

“We just painted the school, so we’ve got a new look, a new administration and new teachers to meet,” Kinch said. “In my ideal world, the school would be a community center. That’s how schools should work.”

And with more than 1,000 students attending classes every day, there are plenty of people to get to know at Twality.

“It lets families meet their neighbors,” she said.

It’s estimated that about 500 families attended Tuesday’s barbecue and picnic, and students were able to pick up their schedule of classes.

Nearby Fowler Middle School hosted a similar event last week.

Inside the bustling school, seventh- and eighth-grade students made their way down the halls, figuring out where their new classes were located.

“I’m trying to nail down my routine,” one girl said to her mother as she turned down a long hallway.

“Your dance routine?” her mother asked.

“No, my class routine,” she said.

School began in earnest on Wednesday, and English teacher Karen Johnson said she couldn’t wait to get started.

“I am certainly excited,” she said, as she set up her classroom for the first day of school. “This is the hardest job I’ve ever had, but it’s also the most rewarding. If you don’t feel that way, you’ll be one of those grouchy people, and you won’t do anybody any good.”

It takes a special kind of teacher to make it in middle school, Johnson said. You need to be a bit, well, out there.

“Most people teaching middle school are a little whacky,” she said. “We like the kids. I like every kind of kid. They are just great, and they aren’t fully formed yet. By high school you have your group, and you are more set in your ways, but middle school can make or break a person.”

Johnson said while high school teachers are much more focused on teaching their given subject, middle school teachers also need to teach students how to become well-rounded adults.

“I’m setting up my goals for the year, and they are not ‘reading,’ ‘writing’ and ‘vocabulary,’” she said. “Of course, I’ll teach those, but I’m also teaching them about integrity, perseverance and working hard.”

A nervous time

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Sixth-grader Emma Nimz, left, and her father Cliff, brother Tanner and her mother Dana, meet Emmas language arts teacher, Karen Johnson, during Twality Middle Schools back to school picnic.Sixth-graders had the school to themselves on Tuesday, as they learned the ropes of middle school — how to open their lockers, where their classes were and meeting their teachers.

Leaving elementary school is a major step for students, Johnson said, and entering middle school can be a nervous time.

“In elementary school, they are used to having one hall, with their one teacher,” she said. “That’s why I am so glad we are doing the barbecue, because parents can walk with the halls and help show them around.”

But if nervousness is expected, no one told David Gonzalez Oliva.

If anything, Gonzalez Oliva said he’s excited.

As the sixth-grader enjoyed ice cream with his family, he said he is ready for school to begin.

Gonzalez Oliva’s older brother graduated from Twality last year, so he isn’t as fresh-faced as some of his fellow classmates.

“I’m not really nervous,” he added. “I know some of the teachers here already, and Ms. Kinch, the principal, and the counselors.”

An avid reader, Gonzalez Oliva said he is most excited for English classes and the school’s homeroom class, known as Rendezvous.

By 6 p.m., the picnic was winding down, but students were still excitedly comparing classes and discussing their plans for the upcoming school year.

Two eighth-grade girls, who haven’t seen each other in months, raced toward one another, excitedly chattering.

The two slammed into one another in a strong hug as they discussed their summers.

“See?” said Kinch. “(Going back to school) is the best thing ever, you get to come back from summer and see all your friends.”

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