Across Alaska this month schools from Metlakatla to Utqiaġvik are welcoming students back to the 2019-2020 school year. These first few days are a special time. Students are being welcomed back by communities of educators who are excited and expectant about the year to come.
Most teachers have spent at least part of their summer preparing for this moment. Many have participated in professional learning to hone their instructional practice; everything from learning how to excite reluctant students about math, to learning how to teach computer science, to gaining insight into supporting the social and emotional lives of children. Their preparation is apparent in the new classroom configurations, the art-filled bulletin boards placed with care around the school and the new books and instructional tools waiting on desks to be opened and used.
Students, so knowledgeable about these spaces that they spend hundreds of hours in each year, notice the changes to their schools – the new coats of paint, the new equipment on the playground, the updates to art on the walls. They also notice the high fives and handshakes, the hugs and greetings coming at them from all sides from the adults who are welcoming them back to campus.
The start of school is also a special time for families. Mothers and fathers, aunties and uncles, grandmas and grandpas, all carrying high hopes and classroom supplies down the hallways, find themselves shaking hands and introducing themselves to teachers who will be their main collaborators in helping their student grow and mature this year. For some, there are transitions – from one school to another or from a trusted teacher to an unknown one. These first days are always a mix of optimism, trust, skepticism and expectation as they wave ‘goodbye’ at the classroom door or the bus stop.
Principals, those who have served in the same district for years, and those new to town or to Alaska, are getting a chance to glimpse the whole community of learning that they will lead this school year. Most school staffs, in the midst of getting individual classrooms and responsibilities prepared, have come together this month under the leadership of their principals to get to know one another, set building and district goals and to unify their purpose.
Crossing guards, bus drivers, custodians, paraprofessionals, secretaries, school librarians, teachers, assistant and lead principals, superintendents, instructional coaches, HR managers, sports coaches, business managers, school board members, students and their families. These are whole communities – all focused on a simple goal: the promise of helping young people gain the knowledge they need to grow and flourish in life.
The start of a new school year is a common life experience for most of us. Familiar, but new each year. Simple, but powerful in its impact. It brings Alaska together, and is a moment that embodies hope. Hope for the future of our communities, for our state and for the world.