A welcoming environment
Now that the first week of the 2019-20 school year is officially in the books, students and parents are slowly getting adjusted to a return to the familiar schedule and routine that comes after months off for summer vacation.
But for staff members, the first week of classes is only the final step in what has been a dedicated process of getting their classrooms and facilities ready to host the hundreds of children who walk through the halls each day.
At the North Marion School District, staff members gathered together on Wednesday, Aug. 28, a week before the start of the school year, to make final preparations for the coming blitz of students that evening for Back to School night — a district-wide event for students and parents to drop by the schools, meet their new teachers and get in the proper mindset for the next nine months.
But for Kindergarten teachers Tami Esmay and Cindy Jackson, summer vacation ended more than a month prior. The pair are two of five Kindergarten teachers at North Marion Primary School and are often the first staff members that incoming students to the school district see.
Esmay and Jackson act as a sort of community liaison during the summer, meeting and greeting prospective students and parents through targeted events at city parks in the communities surrounding North Marion School District.
"We run around the parks in the summer, take book boxes and kits that we make," Jackson said. "In each kit there's a book and a few activities that encourage social interaction or fine motor development and literacy."
The goal is multi-facted: Provide a positive interaction between the NMSD staff and new parents and students, reaching out early to let them know it's time to start registering students, and identifying as early as possible which students and families will need additional assistance throughout their educational careers.
"We use it as a reach out to families to see if they need additional resources," Esmay said. "We try to figure out if they need other resources like ESD or early intervention services."
The pair bring kindergarten and preschool registration packets with them and try to hit every park in the area at least twice during the summer. Primary School Principal Andy Kronser puts the word out through avenues such as social media, and Esmay and Jackson do the rest.
"We have the goal of child finding," Jackson said. "We want to make sure people knew it was time to register kids, so we don't get surprised with a whole class full of kids that register two days before school starts."
Together the two represent 38 years of teaching experience at North Marion — 32 of which belongs to Jackson.
"I have the article from the paper when I got hired," Jackson said. "I look like I'm 10."
"She does," Esmay responds. "She looks very young."
The two have worked together pretty much year round for the past five years and practically finish each others sentences. They come in during the summer for jump start, four and a half days with Kindergarteners in the last week of July to get them ready for what to expect for their first years in the classroom.
That means they have to get their classrooms ready to host children much earlier than the rest of their colleagues in the school district.
"Besides reaching out, then we spend the summer going to garage sales and Goodwill to buy things for our classroom," Jackson said. "Then we have to come in and find room for it."
As a result, their summer vacations are whittled down to maybe a few weeks of actual time off when they're not working either in their classroom or with prospective students and parents.
"We get a couple weeks probably," Esmay said.
"Here and there," Jackson continues.
"But that's something we ask (Kronser) if we can do and take it on," Esmay finished.
Mollee Hunt — 4th Grade
While Esmay and Jackson work on getting new students accustomed to what to expect from the school, across the campus at North Marion Intermediate School, things are much different.
Fourth-grade teacher Mollee Hunt is getting ready for her new students, with the goal of helping them make the difficult transition from children to pre-teens and young adults.
"I try to build more independence and get them ready for junior high, but they're still fourth graders," Hunt said.
A 13-year teaching veteran who has spent the past five years in Oregon, Hunt is theming her classroom this year off a book called The Energy Bus — a children's version of a more adult-oriented book written by Jon Gordon about fueling life and work with positive energy.
"It's about five ways to deal with stresses," Hunt said. "We're going to base the whole school year on driving the bus and dealing with the five rules."
Student teacher Steffany Sweet is in her final year at George Fox University and will be assisting Hunt throughout the year. The pair have a large paper bus posted on the wall outside the classroom that the students will decorate throughout the year for Halloween, Thanksgiving and other special events. Students will make self-portraits to adhere to the bus, and Hunt will help them through Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum to teach them positive mental energy in addition to the standard math, literature and other subjects.
"It's really important," Hunt said. "We're trying to get kids to be able to come together and be able to deal with problems on their own."
Originally from Montana, Hunt was drawn to the North Marion School District partly because its similarities to her home.
"This is a great district," Hunt said. "I love it, because I am a farm girl from Montana, so it's very rural.
"I am truly excited for trying new things," she continued. "Especially the SEL part. We've got a lot of good things, and I'm just excited. I just want to start off with a positive message and atmosphere."
Elyse Hansen — 8th Grade
On the other side of Grim Road at North Marion Intermediate School, 8th grade humanities teacher Elyse Hansen is entering her third year teaching within the district.
After buying her home nearby and sharing property with her parents, she is eager to work and live within the community for the years to come.
"When I first got here three years ago, I knew this is where I'm going to stay," Hansen said. "I live in this area, my daughter is going to go here, I knew I wanted to make this my home."
Living just 10 minutes away, Hansen is able to swing by her classroom whenever she wants during the summer. It's a blessing and a curse, she said jokingly. Being so nearby allows her to work on her classroom throughout the summer, turning it into a comfortable environment with hanging lights, custom furniture, painted walls and a reading nook for students. The downside, of course, is that every minute she spends in her classroom is that much less time she can spend with her family at home.
"I try not to come in too much, because the summer is my family time," she said. "But I came in a week early to get this set up, because I knew I wouldn't be able to do it in the one or two days that we get."She was able to do much of the decorating through a $2,500 grant from Christina Gutierrez of Farmer's Insurance in Canby. The rest she purchased on her own.
"Finding deals when I can and just make it so kids want to come, sit and hang out," Hansen said. "I want them to feel comfortable when they come here."
Her goal is to inspire literacy and reading in each student. If there's a book they want, she'll buy it. Anything to spur a love of reading.
"That's always my goal. Get them to love reading in any way possible," she said. "Kids don't always tend to read outside of school, or they don't know what to read. So if I can find something for them that they like, I want to do that."
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