Students start new school year today

Stonewall Jackson High School senior Tyler Patton, of Mount Jackson, gives a tour to incoming freshmen during Stonewall's Basic Training held last week. School starts today for Shenandoah County Public School students. Courtesy photo by Elizabeth Coffman
Matt Britton, physics teacher at Strasburg High School, demonstrates a computer-programmed robot that he plans to introduce to his high school's physics class this year. Britton, who also teaches statistics and geometry, participated in the school's open house last Tuesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

Shenandoah County Public Schools begins the new school year today, and Superintendent Mark Johnston said he’s excited for the return of students and the introduction of some new programs.

“We are starting our second year of our Biomedical Academy,” he said, “adding cybersecurity to our course offerings at Triplett Tech, and adding drama programs to two of our middle schools so that now all of our middle schools will have drama. The students are why we are all here and it will be so nice to have them back.”

Johnston said the budgeted enrollment for the 2016-17 school year is 5,798 students.

The academic calendar has school ending on June 13, with 13.5 snow days built into the schedule, he said. Christmas break will be held Dec. 26-30 and Easter break April 14-17.

Johnston said one change that may affect students this school year is that the cost of meals has increased by 10 cents for students who pay full price.

The division has a link on the its website at http://tiny.cc/77mgey, where families can determine which bus students will take by entering their home address.

The division’s principals are also looking forward to the start of the new school year.

Jennifer Proctor, principal at W.W. Robinson Elementary School, said the beginning of the year is always exciting.

She said new additions to the W.W. Robinson staff include three new classroom teachers, two English language learners teachers, three special education teachers, one music teacher and one instructional coach.

“This year’s theme for W.W. Robinson is Everyday Superheroes,” Proctor said. “Finding the superhero in all of us.”

She said staff are excited about the Girls on the Run program, which teaches girls to be joyful, healthy and confident while training to run a 5K.

The Parent Teacher Organization is planning activities for the school year as well, she said. “It’s going to be a great year at W.W. Robinson.”

Todd Lynn, principal at North Fork Middle School, said his staff is excited about the new opportunities this school year.

“North Fork Middle School is excited to be able offer theater for our scholars so they can showcase those talents. A big thank you to our School Board to support that position and the opportunity for our kids. We will also be diving into aquariums and authentic experiences they will provide,” he said. “Through Shenandoah County Public Schools’ Moore Grant we were able to purchase a 250-gallon saltwater tank that fits nicely into the sixth, seventh and eighth grade curricula.”

He added that staff will need to do water sampling – checking for pH, salinity, nitrates and phosphates – to make sure they can sustain the ecosystem. The school also has a 350-gallon aquaponics tank that will allow it to grow freshwater fish, trout, catfish and talapia. The tank is part of the agriculture program but has crossovers with science and other elective classes.

Lynn said that the school is also working on a Champions Club that will reward students and give them different experiences for doing the right things in school.

“We have great scholars that do amazing work and we need to do a better job of celebrating them. With that being said, we also want to be able to provide them with experiences that they might not normally get,” he said.

He added that the school will also complete its one-to-one initiative with Chromebooks.

“Every scholar at North Fork Middle School will have a Chromebook to aide them in the instructional process. We started last year with two grade levels and it was extremely successful in many ways,” he said. “Our teachers, students and parents have embraced this and it has allowed us to do many new things with instruction.”

Teachers have also been preparing for the start of the new school year.

Matthew Britton, a physics, calculus, geometry and statistics teacher at Strasburg High School, said he is excited to use robotics in his physics classroom for the first time.

“I’m trying to get more kids in physics,” he said.

Through a grant, he was able to purchase small robotics that can be programmed to perform different tasks.

He has programmed the robotics to run an obstacle course, play songs, sense motion and respond to light.

The class will begin with a unit in circuitry in order to use the robotics. He has reworked his lesson plans in order to use these robotics throughout the school year.

He said he’s excited to push his students to explore new things and to get an understanding of the cyber world.

Teachers have also been participating in open house events at the schools to allow students to explore the schools and meet their new teachers.

Liza Coffman, an Earth science teacher at Stonewall Jackson High School, helped set up that school’s first open house, which the school has called Basic Training. This was an orientation event for incoming freshmen and transfer students to help provide a “successful transition” to their new school.

About 120 students showed up to participate in the five-hour-long event. About 50 upperclassmen volunteered to help the newest Generals get to know the school through various activities.

The goal of the open house, she said, is “to do a better job of communicating our school’s rich traditions to the new students so they have a better idea of what it is they’re coming to and how to be best involved.”

Coffman said the activities included ice breakers, a mock schedule where students walked to their first semester classrooms, covert missions – similar to a scavenger hunt with fun tasks the students had to complete – a Q&A and a dessert social and club fair for students and parents.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com

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