Meet Us at School

Ruth Padilla put three of her children on the bus for Zitzman Elementary School then drove to school to greet them when they got off the bus and walk inside with them. Pictured from left are Veronika, first grade, Rachel, fourth grade, Magdalena, 6 months, and Santana, third grade. Not pictured is Melody Padilla, eighth grade, who took the bus to Riverbend School.    Missourian Photo.

At 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 14, the first day of school, third-grader Brooklynn Blair and her mother, Jennifer Blair, were on the sidewalk at the entrance of Zitzman Elementary School.

School wouldn’t start for another 30 minutes, and there was almost no one else around, but Brooklynn couldn’t wait to get to school.

This was her first day in Miss Short’s class and she was ready to get to work. Inside her backpack Brooklyn had folders, paper, binders, pencils and a supply box containing glue, crayons, pencils and erasers.

The first day of school is an exercise in family togetherness, according to Superintendent Randy George, who arrived at the school at the same time as Brooklynn.

“There’s nothing like the first day of school,” George said. “It becomes parent central around here and that’s how we like it.”

Almost on cue, other people started to show up.

Parents had loaded their students onto school buses and then drove to the school ahead of the bus to see them get off, eager to enter the building.

Ruth Padilla, who was carrying 6-month-old Magdalena, had put three children on the bus — Veronika, first grade, Rachel, fourth grade, and Santana, third grade. She had offered to drive them since it was the first day but they were anxious to see their friends and wanted to ride the bus. Melody Padilla, eighth grade, also took the bus to Riverbend School.

“They were anxious to see their friends,” Padilla said. “But they said, ‘you have to come to school to see us go in.’ ”

Padilla was one of about 50 parents who arrived ahead of the buses, creating an atmosphere of high anxiety.

George waded through rows of parents, including Padilla, who stared at the open school bus doors like parents waiting for children to return from a month at summer camp. Most had cellphones and cameras aimed for quick snapshots as their child stepped off the bus. Most of the parents then accompanied their child or children to their rooms.

David Inman knelt near the bus with his cellphone aimed at the door waiting for his daughter, Myla, who was entering third grade, to appear. Myla was all smiles when she spotted her parents, but her father — not satisfied with the first shot — asked her to back up and let him take another photo.

Linda Pahl, Zitzman principal, stepped onto the bus before students were allowed to exit. She placed wristbands on the arms of kindergarten students who were experiencing their first bus ride and their first day of school ever.

Pahl was all smiles as parents and students embraced each other with fervor.

“It warms your heart,” Pahl said.

Heartwarming as the parent-child interaction was, it was not the only thing on George’s mind as the first day of school unfolded.

He started the day at Pacific High School at 7 a.m. where there were no parents greeting anxious students but there were freshmen arriving for their first day at the big school, anxiously checking folders and looking around for friendly faces.

“It went off like clockwork,” George said. “In the counselor’s office there were only a couple of students looking for help with their schedules. Everybody seemed to know where they were supposed to be and that’s the way we like it.”

He was not only looking to make sure the buses were on time but that the air conditioning was working, all the lights were on and new instructional materials had been delivered.

“You have to have structure to make the whole thing work,” he said

George walked through every building in the district on the first day, completing his last walk at Nike Elementary at about 2:30 p.m.

“In every building, everything came together the way it was supposed to,” George said.

It was not by accident that things went well. It was the culmination of a summer of planning and projects completed by teachers, administrators, custodians, maintenance crews, cooks and bus drivers.

“You have to realize that it takes a full summer of preparation for everything to come together on that day,” George said. “It doesn’t just happen in one day. Way before the first day the faculty is working on scheduling, teacher training, needed instruction materials and even technology.”

This was a big year for technology in the district. Over the summer new Smart Boards were added.

In Becky Centerino’s first-grade room, as soon as they entered the room and found a desk, students were asked to go to the lighted Smart Board with the bold heading Lunch Choice Wednesday and drag their name onto the menu items that they wanted for lunch.

Emily Akers dragged her name to the space for an X-Lunch Box for lunch. Emily’s name joined nine other students in that field, making the X-Lunch Box the favorite of her classmates.

The technology department is also expanding the district wireless system.

This summer the district completed its door safety program, installing new doors and locks in every room in every building.

In spite of the exhilaration of how well it all came together, the superintendent said, “It will get even better.”

The first day is just the test drive of the summer’s work.

“We’ll refine everything as the first days of school progress,” George said. “We’ll keep improving things for weeks.”