BATAVIA – Emotions were running high as parents bid their children farewell on the first day of classes at Batavia’s H.C. Storm Elementary School on Aug. 14.
The first school day is a rite of passage not only for the students but the parents too, many with tears in their eyes as they waved to their children as they lined up with classmates for their journey into the brick building.
“I love to watch the first day of school and see everyone come together,” said parent Cait Beltran.
“It’s kind of emotional,” Beltran added, but she and husband Jake seemed to be taking everything in stride as they sent off their daughter Gracie to begin Kindergarten.
The Beltrans have been through this experience before, with son Keegan now entering second grade.
The first day of school means both an end to summer vacation and the start of new adventures.
“Getting back into a routine after a summer of fun is a challenge but it’s also exciting for the kids,” said Mary Damitio, whose son Spencer is about to start second grade.
Inside the school, teachers immediately set about to get their students into the classroom routine and soothe away those first day jitters.
Second-grade teacher Kim Cocallas gathered her 21 new students around her and read them a book called “First Day Jitters,” a delightful school tale with a surprise ending.
“I have the best story for you,” Cocallas said. “Reading is one of my favorite things to do with second-graders.”
After the story, Cocallas confided to the class that she was nervous about the first day too, and had worried that her students might not like her.
“What if they feel I’m awful and never want to come back?” Cocallas said.
The students expressed surprise and quickly assured Cocallas that her fears were misplaced.
On the wall, Cocallas had placed a giant sheet of paper with the heading “First Day Feelings.” The students placed an “X” above one of four choices: happy, sad, excited or jittery, to describe their feelings.
Before long, Cocallas had the students counting up the votes and tallying the totals for a math lesson in disguise.
Just when the students had returned to their desks, Principal Anne Paonessa walked into the classroom.
“I can’t believe you’re already second graders,” Paonessa exclaimed before greeting individual students by name and welcoming them for a new school year.
The students then received their first big assignment, to create a self-portrait using crayons.
Cocallas offered encouragement as her new students colored their masterpieces.
“I like that you’re making your shirt plaid, just like the one you have on today,” Cocallas told one boy.
The teacher also made sure the students followed instructions, gently but firmly reminding those who had failed to color in the printed picture frame that they needed to complete the task.
As the artistry continued, special education teacher Hannah Stevenson entered to get acquainted with a few of the students in the class.
“I’m trying to put some faces with names,” said Stevenson, who is beginning her first year at Storm. “I’m ecstatic to be here."
Cocallas led her students through a series of basic daily activities, right down to learning the proper locations for storing the ubiquitous backpacks and water bottles.
“There’s a lot of repetition so they learn the routine and can get through the school day more efficiently,” Cocallas said.
Cocallas was closely observing her students and their reactions to her instructions.
“You start to get a feel for them and to make adjustments,” Cocallas said.
Then, it was time for some well-earned recess on the school’s playground equipment.
Storm has three sections of second-graders this year, as well as a bilingual second- and third-grade classroom.
Cocallas and her students were joined on the playground by the second-grade classes being taught by Julie Johnson and Breannen Marshall.
First, the teachers gave the students a lesson in being respectful, responsible and safe on the playground equipment before letting them loose.
Johnson is very familiar with Storm, having attended the school herself as a child.
“I have a huge love for second-graders,” Johnson said. “It’s just a fun energy on the first day. They are so sweet and nervous at the same time.”
Marshall said the first day of school for students is critical.
“It’s the time to establish a working relationship so they know what to expect,” Marshall said.
Filing back into the school with military-like precision, the students returned to class for a humorous animated video that emphasized what was clearly the day’s big lesson: be respectful, responsible and safe.
Cocallas frequently halted the video to make sure her students got the point.
The morning also included a snack break, a visit to the bathroom and a practice journey to the lunch room, where the students learned how to line up for the hot or cold lunch options.
Paonessa is now in her fourth year as Storm’s principal, and proudly showed a visitor the school’s colorful Learning Resource Center, a “hub space” for collaborative study, a learning laboratory and the Reader’s and Writer’s Lounge for students to immerse themselves in their books.
“We want our students to take ownership of their growth,” Paonessa said. “Kids can be so creative. We just have to get the materials into their hands.”
For the parents who handed off their hopes and dreams at the school door, Paonessa said the school staff works to earn their trust.
“We want them to feel confident we’re invested in every student,” she said.