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Students, teachers return to school for 2017-18 academic year

After a few, seemingly short, months of summer, the time has come for students to return to school.

The excitement of the 2017-18 school started with back-to-school bashes and meet and greets a few days before classrooms opened at Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School Aug. 8 and Ahfachkee School Aug. 11, bringing students, parents and teachers together again. PECS’ first day was Aug. 10 and Ahfachkee’s was Aug. 14.

This year’s transition to the first day incorporated some fun. The back-to-school festivities started the first week of August with informational parties in Hollywood and Immokalee. Elementary, middle and high school students, along with their families, enjoyed swimming, water slides, music, food and bounce houses. The Tribal Council also provided free backpacks to all Tribal students and the Center for Student Success and Services attended the Hollywood event to provide families with education information.

Tiawannah Calhoun, K-12 educational adviser, said CSSS helped distribute backpacks to students on every reservation, something the Tribe has done for the past few years. She said the initiative was developed to help excite kids for the school year and help reduce school supply costs for parents.

“Backpacks are expensive to purchase and we give out really good ones. At the end of the day, you need something to put supplies in that’s of good quality and that will last a long time,” she explained. “It just helps out the families a little more … it’s a little weight lifted off their shoulders.”

Chelsea Mountain brought her 4-year-old son, who will attend pre-k this year, to the back-to-school event in Hollywood. Although she already purchased a backpack for her son prior to the event, she said the information CSSS provided and the event as a whole were beneficial. This was her first year attending the event with her son and said she will definitely bring him back next year.

“It was a great event and the kids seemed to really enjoy it,” she said.

Sporting new backpacks and smiles after the festivities, students headed to their schools to learn what to expect for the upcoming academic year. The meet and greets were an ideal opportunity for students to scope out their seats, teachers to talk to their students and parents to get comfortable with the procedures of the schools.

“This is a time to get prepared for the coming school year,” said PECS principal Brian Greseth. “Some kids are ready for school and some would like another week off, but most are excited to get back into the groove.”

At the PECS open house, parents and students received all the information they needed about busses, classroom assignments, pick up and drop off details, sports teams, the Skyward online parent portal to the classroom and more. Then it was off to meet the teachers.

Classrooms were decked out in their first-day finery with tidy desks and plenty of information, and for some, candy treats. At least one classroom had words of encouragement posted on the walls, including the pearls of wisdom, “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it,” and “Try again. Fail again. Try again.”

Sisters Joss and Nena Youngblood explored Nena’s sixth-grade social studies classroom.

“I’m looking forward to people being more mature this year,” said new middle-schooler Nena, 11. “That will help me focus on school; they used to be so loud.”

The girls were accompanied by older sister Acealyn Youngblood, who had some useful advice for the eighth- and sixth-graders.

“Turn in your work on time, pay attention and be respectful to your teachers,” said Acealyn, 21, a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Fifth-grader Kalissa Huff met her science teacher Renea Finney with her first-grade sister Jenna and parents Tracy and Chad. Kalissa likes science because of the hands-on experiments and activities and is looking forward to the class. Finney gives students plenty of opportunities for group project work.

“I want the students to get a love of science,” said Finney, who teaches third-, fourth- and fifth-grade science. “Girls tend to think it’s a boy thing, but I want to make it fun and hands-on so it sticks in their brains. Science doesn’t have to be intimidating.”

Jade Osceola met with students and parents in her seventh- and eighth-grade Creek classroom and shared her expectations for the school year.

“I want students to be more organized,” Osceola said. “Skyward can help them keep up and check what is missing. This class counts for high school credit so I expect them to be as organized as high school students.”

Ahfachkee parents and students were welcomed by Principal Dorothy Cain and staff at the school’s sneak peek. Cain wanted to make sure students knew exactly where to go on the first day. The school hired an assistant principal, guidance counselor and 14 new teachers over the summer.

Third-grade teacher Jennifer Soterakis answered questions from students and parents during the open house: Yes, there will be homework every day, including the first day and cursive will be taught much later in the school year. She told the inquisitive parents they have “bigger fish to fry”, including multiplication, division, fractions, word problems, daily reading groups and novel reading.

“I will teach them the classroom procedures so they can learn. When a classroom is in chaos, there is no learning going on,” Soterakis said. “During group work on projects it may be noisy but it won’t be disorganized. I run a very tight classroom. When they follow procedures, we will get to have some fun.”

Most of the new teachers are education veterans with many years of experience under their belts. Fourth-grade teacher Julie Armband taught in Broward County for 24 years before making the change to Ahfachkee and eagerly anticipates teaching children from a different culture than her own.

“I am excited about the adventure of learning a new culture,” she said. “This is a fresh start and I look forward to seeing the children’s shining faces every day.”

Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade language, reading and journalism teacher Ingrid Isaacs is from Broward and is in her 25th year of teaching.

“I want to learn the Seminole culture,” she said. “I’m elated to be here and to learn something new. You never want to become complacent.”

While touring the middle school social studies classroom, eighth-grader Athena Bert, 13, gave her younger sister, sixth-grader Lania Bert, 11, a heads up on middle school.

“Know where you’re heading and what time you have to be in your next class,” Athena said.

Middle school social studies teacher Mike Daniels spent a dozen years teaching in Honolulu, Hawaii and made the move to Ahfachkee after meeting Cain at a teachers’ event in the spring.

“The school has a sense of purpose, which is a nice to find in a school,” Daniels said.

For teachers, the beginning of school brings the promise of a year to be spent engaging young minds and preparing their students for the future. At PECS and Ahfachkee, the foundation is set and the students are off and running.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.

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