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Getting ready for opening day of school

Karen Mansk, a first-year teacher and graduate of Geneva High School, sets up her classroom Thursday at Mill Creek Elementary School in Geneva.
Karen Mansk, a first-year teacher and graduate of Geneva High School, sets up her classroom Thursday at Mill Creek Elementary School in Geneva.

Brittany Phelps thinks Wednesday will be a day she remembers. It will be the start of her senior year at St. Charles East.

“I think I’ll try to remember it more because it will be my last, first day of high school,” she said.

Phelps is among thousands of people – students, teachers, administrators and support staff – gearing up for the 2012-13 academic year, which begins next week for Batavia School District 101, Geneva School District 304, Kaneland School District 302 and St. Charles School District 303.

The high school senior

Phelps remembers feeling terrified when, as a freshman, she began her career at St. Charles East. Because she went to Thompson Middle School, half her eighth-grade class attended North High School, so she felt like she knew no one.

Since then, she has joined the student council executive board, DECA and three honor societies.

She looks forward to viewing the school as one of the oldest students.

“The freshmen will look even smaller now,” Phelps said.

Phelps said this year will likely be stressful. But with graduation and college acceptance letters on the horizon, “There are so many things to look forward to.”

The first-year teacher

After substitute teaching in the Geneva schools for three years, Karen Mansk is starting the academic year with a classroom of her own.

The 2005 Geneva High School graduate expects to teach about 20 second-graders at Mill Creek Elementary School, where she will work with a mentor.

“I know that I had an excellent education in the school district,” Mansk said. “It’s really nice to just be back in a place I feel is nurturing.”

Mansk, who was hired this month, spent this week organizing her classroom, an activity she said she was excited to do.

“I’m so ready to make it the way that I envision a classroom to run and use all the things I’ve collected,” she said. “I feel it is important students feel safe, comfortable and know that our classroom is a place for learning.”

On the first day of school, she and her students will spend time getting to know each other, and she will share her expectations and classroom procedures with them.

“I know I will have little butterflies beforehand,” Mansk said, “but I’m really happy and ready to meet the kids.”

The building and grounds crew

Director of Building and Grounds Pat Browne and his team of 32 are the reason why the Batavia schools have that back-to-school fresh feel.

His staff and an outsourced janitorial service spend the summer making repairs, waxing the floors, cleaning the furniture, replacing burned-out light bulbs and – among other responsibilities – moving furniture.

“Preparation begins on the last day of school,” Browne said.

The crew maintains eight school buildings.

No school is noticeably messier than the others, but some may require summertime construction projects, such as erecting playgrounds.

The final days before the school year focus on final setup, such as equipping classrooms with the proper number of desks and responding to teachers’ work orders, Browne said.

“For us, the first day of school is exciting because a lot of that busy work has drawn to a close,” he said.

The school principal

Shelley Hueber, principal of John Shields Elementary School in Sugar Grove, said she loves the first day of school because the kids are excited about coming to school, and teachers are eager to get started.

“The first day of school is kind of the easy part because all the hard work has already been done,” Hueber said.

About 620 students – enrollment changes daily – are expected Wednesday at John Shields, Hueber said.

At John Shields, the first day begins with an all-school assembly, where students and teachers say the Pledge of Allegiance and those new to the school are introduced.

“There’s sometimes when, depending on where the kids are in the building, they might never see a new teacher,” Hueber said. “[The assembly] also lets the new kids feel a little like, ‘I’ve been recognized, people know who I am.’ ”

The kindergartner (and her mom)

When shopping for her daughter Claire’s kindergarten school supplies, former teacher Heather Trask understood why parents sometimes griped about finding specific items.

Tracking down certain sized Post-its is just one way Trask is preparing Claire for full-day kindergarten at Bell-Graham Elementary School in Campton Hills. Claire recently got vaccinations and is practicing going to bed early and waking up early, Trask said.

Claire, who loved preschool, is excited about kindergarten but has some questions.

“She’s very concerned about lunch,” said Trask, noting she and her husband will pack Claire’s lunch until she learns how hot lunch works.

Trask expects Claire’s first day of school to be full of mixed emotions.

“Hopefully, I won’t cry,” Trask said.

“It makes you feel old, too. Gosh, do I really have a kid old enough for elementary school?”

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