Teachers and students meet for first time

From left, Main Street Elementary School teacher Kim Preston speaks with Gage Valetta, 11, Sydney Helmbold, 8, and their mother Erin Helmbold at a school open house Thursday. The Titusville Area School District held open houses at its various buildings all week.

The end of the summer vacation and the start of the 2019-20 school year is in sight. In preparation for the occasion, the Titusville Area School District held a series of open houses across all of its buildings, a process which wrapped up Thursday with the elementary school open houses.

According to Superintendent Stephanie Keebler, attendance at the open houses has been high across all of the schools. She said the open houses give the students a chance to familiarize themselves with their new classrooms and schedules, while also giving the faculty a moment to notice any last minute issues that need rectified and better prepare for the start of the year.

More importantly, Keebler said the open houses help get the parents more involved in the lives of the students, fostering a sense of cooperation between the district and the community.

“We can’t do it alone,” Keebler said. “If we don’t have an open house where they can come in, it prevents that.”

Main Street Elementary Principal Nancy Wright echoed the sentiments and stressed the importance of allowing parents to meet with the people who will be teaching their kids ahead of the school year.

“I feel like it gives the parents a chance to come in and talk, ask questions, meet the new teachers, and I feel the teachers aren’t as hurried in the beginning of the year (if they have an open house),” Wright said.

This was Wright’s second year as principal at the school, and she praised the support the district receives from the community. She said it isn’t uncommon for a local business to make a donation or give gift cards to teachers as the school year begins.

“That’s the small town feel and community feel,” Wright said.

Further, she saw the open house as a chance for staff to take a break from all the paper work, planning and scheduling they have to do during the summer, letting them see students once more and hear how they’ve been over the summer.

“I think for a lot of us, it’s about the opportunity to have the students back in the building,” Wright said.

For the new teachers in the district, the open house gave them their first opportunity to meet with the kids they’ll be instructing. One such teacher is Katie Taylor, a new learning support instructor at Main Street Elementary.

“I’m nervous,” Taylor said about the new year. “I would be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous, but I’m excited too.”

The move to the TASD was a major one for Taylor. She previously worked in the Pittsburgh area at a district where all classes in all grades were confined to one building. Seeing the Titusville system was something of a pleasant surprise, as she found “no disconnect” between the staff in the school, despite being split up into multiple structures.

Sabrina VanTine, a new art teacher for the elementary schools, found meeting the students and parents in person, face-to-face through the open house to be an important aspect of preparing for the school year. She said it helps teachers know the atmosphere their classrooms will have from their students, as well as the personalities of the parents.

Just as the open house helps out teachers and faculty, it can also be beneficial for the students. Jennifer Guntrum, who teachers at the Early Childhood Learning Center, said there is merit in allowing kids to explore the schools ahead of the year. By allowing the students a sneak preview at their classes, it makes things a little less “scary” on the first day, according to Guntrum.

First grade teacher Joan Brooks expressed similar views, especially as she has to help students adjust from learning in the ECLC to the classrooms of Main Street Elementary School, which means learning new routines, navigating a larger building and taking part in more academic classes.

While some kids may dread the end of summer vacation, Second grade teacher Ellen Edwards found enthusiasm high during the open house.

“I think they’re excited to see the rooms before they have to come in and learn in them,” Edwards said. “I know I would be.”

Second grade teacher Kim Preston shared in the enthusiasm.

“Oh, it’s always fun to get back into things and just to get to know the kids again,” she said.

Many of the parents at the open houses expressed gratitude for the events.

“I like it,” said Amber Carr, who was with her son Kaydence MacQuarrie. “It’s a good thing. That way they’re not coming in on the first day not knowing their teachers or where they’re sitting.”

Stephanie Fullerton, who was touring with her 8-year-old son Kiernan, thought the day was very beneficial for the kids because it allows them to “get the lay of the land” of the schools, as well as see friends they might not have met with much over the summer.

Krista Steinbuhler saw the event as helping settle things before the year starts.

“We love the open house,” Steinbuhler said. “They get excited about the school year and we get to meet the teachers, so it calms any back-to-school nervousness.”

Some of the students themselves also had positive things to say about the open house. Gage Valetta, an 11-year-old heading into fifth grade, said it was a very helpful thing for kids returning to classes.

“I helps because you know your teacher and you know who the people you’ll always need are,” Valetta said.

The first day of classes is Tuesday for all schools in the TASD.

Ray can be reached, by email, at sray@titusvilleherald.com.

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