It’s back to school time for Aurora teachers, students
By Kalyn Belsha email@example.com August 16, 2013 4:00PM
Incoming sixth graders at East Aurora's Cowherd Middle School Juan Rosales, Bryan Lazcano and Dashaun Miller try out their lockers for the first time Thursday at orientation. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 19, 2013 9:57AM
AURORA — It’s less than a week before school starts and Cowherd Middle School language arts teacher Robert Husk is cracking jokes in front of a group of nervous-looking sixth-graders sitting on the floor.
“Any questions?” Husk asked. “You know everything you need to know about sixth grade already?”
He’s wearing a bright orange T-shirt with Cowherd’s Cougars mascot and a pin that says bluntly: “No whining.”
The East Aurora school held a two-hour orientation for incoming sixth-graders Thursday to introduce the students to some of their teachers, familiarize them with the school, teach them about changing classes and give them a chance to try out their lockers for the first time.
One by one the students got up to practice with the combination lock. After 15 minutes, only a few managed to pop it open.
“Please don’t lose any sleep over it,” Husk instructed the students encouragingly. “It’s a big change, but we’re going to do everything possible to make this as smooth as possible.”
School starts Wednesday for East and West Aurora School Districts, and teachers and students are getting ready for a new year that’s bringing many changes.
East Aurora is offering free breakfast and lunch to all students this year and many buildings have new principals, including the high school. The elementary schools have 15 more minutes of class time, so they dismiss at the same time as the middle schools, and the high school is following a new bell schedule.
Over at West Aurora, the high school has a new principal and middle schools will follow late-start Mondays. The district also has a new website and new directors of special education and assessments.
This is the last year as superintendent for both East Aurora’s Jerome Roberts and West Aurora’s James Rydland. The two districts’ school boards are in the process of looking for a new top administrator to replace the men when they retire in June.
Many teachers spend the summer thinking about how they’ll set up their classrooms come August. One of them is Jen White, a seventh- and eighth-grade language arts teacher at West Aurora’s Herget Middle School.
White devoted about two to three hours a day checking Pinterest, a website where people can share design concepts, and education blogs to get ideas. She sketched out a blueprint of how she wanted the room to look and took trips to Ikea and Target to stock up on new furniture and supplies, spending about $600 to $700 out of pocket.
“You think of it like when you’re getting ready for college,” White said. “I spend a lot of time in this room and so do the students and I want the space to be nice for them.”
She spent about seven days setting up and the result is a cheery blue and green room reminiscent of a café and an apartment.
White’s room is full of do-it-yourself projects, like a padded reading bench she made with fabric and particle board. She also turned her back board into a space to recognize student work with decorative letters that were made on her home die-cutting machine from sticky vinyl.
“I want students to walk in and feel comfortable and I want the room to be inviting,” White said, adding it’s especially important for middle schoolers, who need visual stimulation.
This year she also set up her room to emphasize organization, a skill she teaches her students. She bought and labeled colorful pull-out drawers so students know where to store supplies and purchased stools so students can get in a circle for discussion more quickly than dragging desks.
Over at West Aurora’s Todd Early Childhood Center, bilingual pre-kindergarten teacher Betsy Nieto also was setting up her classroom Friday.
After three years teaching bilingual kindergarten at Hill Elementary, Nieto moved to Todd. She was recruited because the school was adding a fifth bilingual pre-kindergarten section and few teachers have all three certifications needed to teach it. Nieto is decorating her room from scratch because it used to be an office.
“I wanted to cry on Monday,” Nieto said looking at the box-filled room.
She too is following a sketch she made of the room with various centers that facilitate certain types of learning and play. At the front of the room is a colorful rug with the numbers and school supplies written in English and Spanish where Nieto will start the day with her students.
In other parts of the room will be centers for the library, blocks, computers, art, and a sand and water table for science.
Nieto said she had to change her mindset going into this year, as she’ll be focusing more on small-group instruction, instead of the whole class at once. And because she used to teach kindergarten she knows how far students need to progress before they leave her class.
She’ll help her students learn their letters, sounds, colors, and basic shapes as well as learn to write their names, count to 20, develop fine motor skills and control outbursts.
“It’s exciting to work with children that young,” Nieto said. “It’s sort of a privilege. I’ll be the first teacher for many of them.”