Shenandoah students return to cool schools on first day back

By Josette Keelor

WOODSTOCK — On the first day of school at W.W. Robinson Elementary School in Woodstock, new third grade teacher Emily Roach had a quick cure for her students’ jitters.

“I gave them jitter [hand] jell to wash their jitters away,” she said. She also read a couple stories with a theme of fighting off fears — “First Day Jitters,” by Julie Danneberg, and “Lacey Walker, a Nonstop Talker,” by Christianne C. Jones.

But in general, she said, children were excited to be back in school, and her first day “went really well.”

In kindergarten, new teacher Sara Pittella was also settling in but said she had a lot of support from more seasoned staff.

“I don’t think I could have gotten a better team,” she said. It’s a team of 10, she said, but most of the kindergarten classrooms also have aides.

Roach, a science teacher with a plan of teaching eco-systems over the coming days and guiding students through new vocabulary words in reading class, also has a 10-member teaching team for the third grade.

Her students’ first story for reading will be “A Fine, Fine School,” by Sharon Creech.

Many of the students arrived at W.W. Robinson on Tuesday morning to welcome assistance from about 20 Central High School football players, who showed up before school to greet students filing off buses and to help them find their classes.

According to Principal Melissa Foltz, the football players led by Head Coach Mike Yew added a fun vibe to the morning rush.

“Our students were so excited,” she said.

“The day, it was fabulous,” she said — “very smooth, lots of energy.”

The school welcomed 23 new staff members this year, 15 of them teachers, and though Foltz said turnover rates fluctuate from year to year, “It’s a higher turnover than usual.”

Kindergarten through second grades at W.W. Robinson have 10 teachers on each team, Roach explained, and third through fifth have 8 teachers. Classrooms vary in size. Pittella said her class of 17 is the smallest of the kindergarten classes. The largest has 24.

With a classroom of 21, Roach said she plans to tie arts into her third-grade curriculum to increase interest among several students with learning disabilities.

According to Foltz, the school will have a goal of relationships and team-building this year.

“We want our classrooms to be communities,” she said.

The county’s 10 public schools saw a slight decrease in enrollment, according to Superintendent Jeremy Raley.

From last year’s 6,186 to today’s 6,160, he said, “We’re down 26, but it’s important that these are just day one figures.”

He said he expects some more students over the next few days.

W.W. Robinson’s staff turnover rate mirrored the rest of the county, which Raley said was more than 50 and is higher than usual. He said Mark Johnston, director of human resources, plans a presentation about enrollment at the School Board’s meeting in the county government building in Woodstock at 7 p.m. Sept. 11.

In the heat of Tuesday’s 90-degree heat, the failing chiller at W.W. Robinson “was certainly tested,” but according to Raley had no apparent trouble keeping classrooms cool.

Overall, he said, the county’s first day back was “a very successful day, a smooth opening.”

“Students were in the classrooms and learning this morning,” he said. There was minimal transition, he said, so “It appeared as if our students had never left.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or