Emotions run high for kids and parents as final three county public schools begin year

Wade Shuman sneaked a piece of Fruit Loops cereal Tuesday.

A chance at an early-morning snack on the first day of school proved too great to resist.

Wade and the other new kindergarteners at Centre Hall Elementary School looked a bit apprehensive Tuesday as they tackled the first arts-and-crafts project of their school careers — stringing Cheerios and the colored cereal loops into necklaces.

A little comfort food may have been just what he needed.

And if that didn’t work, his new teacher was ready to swoop in with some encouragement.

Upstairs in the elementary building, the older students needed less soothing to calm first-day jitters.

They’ve been there, done that.

Teachers were instead getting to know the pupils they will spend so much time with this year.

Angela Homan was grilling her fourth-grade class about the animals some entered this year in the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair, the late-August tradition that wrapped up last week and took with it the end of summer for many students.

“I’m happy and sad,” said fourth-grader Anna Stitzer. “I’m happy to start the school year but sad because my summer is over.”

There were mixed emotions for others, too.

Parents snapped pictures and gave hugs that lingered a little as they dropped off students right up until the doors of Centre Hall Elementary closed and the bell rang at 8:15 a.m.

Michelle Brown, of Centre Hall, was there to send off her oldest child, Kayla, who started kindergarten Tuesday.

“It’s bittersweet,” Brown said of seeing her daughter go. “It’s a big moment. A little bit nerve-racking.”

These scenes and others played out Tuesday across the many schools in the Penns Valley, Bellefonte and Bald Eagle area school districts.

The first day of classes in those three districts means it’s officially school season again in Centre County. Students at State College and Philipsburg-Osceola have been back in class since last week.

Bald Eagle Area Superintendent Jeff Miles toured all the district’s buildings during the first day and reported that all went well for students and teachers.

“It’s running pretty smoothly,” Miles said. “At 4 p.m., we’ll take a big breath and say the ‘kids are home.’”

Miles said the district’s employees new and old were “anxious and eager” for the year to begin.

Bellefonte Area Superintendent Cheryl Potteiger said her district’s first day with its new security measures went off without a hitch.

“People are getting used to that,” she said. “The reaction seemed to be overall positive. The parents like that we are doing something to ensure safety.”

Potteiger said students and teachers were excited to be back.

“I got around to all the buildings,” she said. “I got to see some of the kids. They were busy getting the lay of the land.”

Danielle Yoder, principal at Centre Hall, said the first day there got off to a good start.

Yoder, who is entering her second year as the school’s principal, said students seem to be excited about technology in their classrooms.

The district, as part of its technology initiative, has placed tablets and other technology in elementary classrooms. Yoder said it encourages students to learn by creating and showing others their work.

“It’s absolutely a better way to learn,” she said.

Beyond the technology, there was plenty of old-fashioned creativity on display Tuesday at Centre Hall Elementary.

Second-grade teacher Heather Bird played off her name. The first-year teacher, who was married this summer and took the name Bird, wore a hat with a bird decoration on top —beak and all.

It was a hit with the students.

“They decided I should wear the hat all day,” she said.