Back to school

New changes impact students' first day

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl Elementary students gathered on the steps of Dunkirk's School 5 on Tuesday morning for their first day of the 2018-2019 school year.

Refreshed from summer vacation, many area students began their first day of the new school year on Tuesday. According to Dunkirk City School District Superintendent Dr. James Tracy, who visited several buildings throughout the morning, “Everything has been running smoothly, like we never left!”

Students in the district have experienced a few changes that were implemented this school year. The district has increased the time of high school classes so that subject matter can be studied in greater depth. Similarly, the elementary and middle school curriculum now include literacy blocks, where Dr. Tracy said increased instruction time in reading has been shown to be very beneficial. “Each year, we seem to be doing better and better. Last school year’s numbers haven’t been officially released yet, but it’s clear that our students’ success continues,” Tracy stated.

Caleb Sickles-Haas is starting fourth grade at School No. 5 and is excited to be in Mrs. Gustafson’s class. “I’m looking forward to learning more math this year,” he said.

Zakary Clark began his first day of fifth grade, also at School No. 5. “This will be his last year here before going to middle school,” his mom commented. “I know he’s going to miss it!”

Fredonia Central School Superintendent Jeff Sortisio is enthusiastic about Tuesday’s start to the new year. While all students in grades one through 12 began the new year on Tuesday, only a portion of kindergarten students attended, as part of the district’s “staggered start” program. Sortisio explained that the program, which was implemented several years ago, means “five or six students started today (Tuesday) in each kindergarten class. Others will start on Wednesday and some will start on Thursday. Everyone attends on Friday. This gives more individualized attention to our youngest learners. They learn how the school operates, how they transition from activities within the classroom and how to transition to specials outside the classroom.”

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl Fourth grader Caleb Sickles-Haase started his first day of school in Mrs. Gustafson's class at Dunkirk's School 5.

Sortisio explained that the universal pre-k program has a similar format, with one notable difference. “Today (Tuesday), our UPK teachers and their aides actually visited students at their homes to get to know them and their families better before school starts,” he said.

New for high school students, the district introduced a shorter lunch period on Tuesday, which so far has been met with students’ approval. “We’ve split the lunch period into a 20-minute study hall followed by or preceded by a 20-minute lunch. A lot of students were saying that 20 minutes felt a lot longer than they thought it would,” according to Sortisio. The goal behind the shortened lunch was to reduce crowding issues in the cafeteria. The change also resulted in shorter lines, which allowed students to get their lunch faster and have more time to eat.

Sortisio also welcomed Paula Troutman as the new middle school principal. Overall, he was pleased with the start of the new school year. “School is so much more fun when the students are here,” he said.