WINGATE — Students arriving for their first day of the year at Wingate Elementary School encountered a cheerful doorman.
“Hey guys, how are you doing?” Principal James Orichosky said to backpack-toting children stepping off their buses in front of the school entrance. “How are you today?”
After that, his staff took over the annual drill carried out Tuesday throughout the Bald Eagle Area, Bellefonte Area and Penns Valley Area districts. Schools sprang to life as summer closed to the sounds of books and lockers opening.
State College and Philipsburg-Osceola area schools got under way last week.
“That’s the beauty of school — starting over every year,” Orichosky said while greeting students.
In a flurry of motion, Wingate teachers and aides welcomed back children, directing them to the right rooms. Nancy Watkins, an aide, played traffic cop inside the front door.
“First grade? Go to the library,” she said to one boy confused about his destination.
First-grader Aaron Mc- Clusick, of Snow Shoe, was eager to start with one year under his belt.
“Because school is fun,” he said on his way to class. “And it goes quick.”
He has a clear goal heading into the fall.
“I’m going to be good,” he said.
Eventually, the bustle quieted, the halls emptied and Orichosky delivered the initial morning announcement. “Don’t be an ignoramus,” he said during his pep talk. “Get smart about learning.”
The school’s smallest took their first steps toward heeding the message.
Initially, kindergartners — some looking bewildered, a few in tears — assembled in the cafeteria before moving on to their classrooms. Some mothers and fathers waiting for school to begin wore anxious expressions as well.
“It’s a tough day for some parents,” Orichosky said. “I think the kids adapt after a while.”
The new school year comes as the district faces some adapting of its own.
Over the summer, district officials sent a letter to parents of Wingate students asking them to consider switching to Port Matilda, Mountaintop or Howard elementary schools, which have much smaller enrollments. Under the district’s School Choice option, students can attend any of the district’s four elementary schools.
The district wants to reduce Wingate’s population, about 400 students, to keep $300,000 in annual federal Title I funding for the 2013-2014 year. Title I funding supports remedial reading instruction.
New funding rules stipulate the district must allocate money and resources for every student equally, regardless of schools. The district says that because of Wingate’s larger class sizes, it’s spending less per student there than at the smaller schools.
So far, few Wingate parents have shifted their children. But in the meantime, Orichosky said, his school is faring fine.
“We have some larger class sizes definitely than other schools in the district,” he said. “But we have plenty of room and teachers and resources to take care of our students.”
Kindergarten teacher Mary Price got her children off to a good start. Students completed their first assignment — a picture worksheet called “Off to School” that asked them to arrange three morning chores, including waving goodbye to a parent, in order.
They also learned how to respond to their teacher’s request for attention. “Class, class, class,” Price said. “Yes, yes, yes,” the students chimed.
Price said she asked her new students if they were nervous that morning. Some admitted they were.
“I said, ‘Guess what? I’m a little nervous too,’ ” Price said.
Ruth Rhodes, an aide and office assistant who has seen 22 first days in her time, said they’re always an adjustment for teachers also after the summer break.
“By next week, everything will be settled,” she said. “It just takes us a while to get back into the routine.”
Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter @CRosenblumNews