Baldwinsville Superintendent Matt McDonald visited Kristina Arlukiewicz’s class Thursday, Sept. 6, at Elden Elementary School. (Provided photo)
Students and staff alike were abuzz with excitement for the first day of classes last Wednesday in the Baldwinsville Central School District. At Van Buren Elementary School, children greeted friends and teachers both new and old before settling into their respective classrooms.
“I think every single student from my class last year stopped by my class to say hi and tell me what they did over the summer,” said third-grade teacher Megan Christman. “I had a couple girls stop by and say, ‘We’ve added you to our route.’”
Christman said her former students made their rounds to visit their kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade teachers before stopping to see her. Even as the kids move up in grades, their bonds remain strong with one another and their teachers, said VBE Principal Danielle Nahorney.
“It doesn’t matter where you hang your backpack,” Nahorney said. “Everybody has their teacher, but they’re all our kids. They have that person to talk to, even if it’s not their teacher.”
The connections transcend grade levels with assemblies for multiple grades, reading buddies and “tapping into others’ strengths and ideas,” Nahorney said.
“We’re always trying to find more creative ways for our teachers to collaborate with each other, whether it’s setting up reading buddies with kids from other grades, or sometimes the same grade,” Nahorney said.
“[In other schools I’ve worked in] it’s not always that open door: ‘Let me show you what works for me,’” Christman said. “That’s what I love about Van Buren. It’s a great place to work.”
Forging relationships among staff and students, Christman said, creates an environment where students feel safe to make mistakes and where everyone can share in their triumphs.
“When they’re successful, they don’t just want to tell me. They want to run down here and tell Mrs. Nahorney, other teachers, everybody,” she said.
That sense of shared community extends to parents as well. Christman said she and her colleagues at VBE strive to make parents feel comfortable getting in touch with them.
“I’m here to help and to listen, and we’re here to encourage their children as a team,” she said.
In addition to building relationships, Nahorney said the other objective for the year is to promote positivity.
“One thing I encouraged with my staff is optimism. That goes a long way,” she said.
Focusing on the positive is nothing new to the VBE community. This is the second year VBE has participated in the Positivity Project, a character education program that focuses on a handful of traits or themes each month. This year, B’ville has implemented the program in all five elementary schools and Ray Middle School. Nahorney said the aim is to provide consistent messaging about good character throughout a child’s elementary years and beyond.
Christman said her new class of third-graders is already able to explore some of the character traits in-depth because they learned about them last year.
“All of that vocabulary came back. It was a completely different discussion this year because they had that background, that foundation,” she said.
“It’s going to be a wonderful year,” she added. “No doubt.”
While the excitement was palpable among students, Nahorney and Christman said they too are eager to start the new year.
“It was like Christmas Eve last night,” Nahorney said of the anticipation.
The weather Sept. 5 was decidedly un-Christmassy, however. As temperatures swelled into the mid-90s and the heat index rose, district officials decided to cancel outdoor activities between 1 and 6 p.m. VBE students would have to wait to test out their brand-new playground, which volunteers helped assemble last month.
“We had over 120 volunteers that put in over 500 hours of work and sweat,” Nahorney said. “It just goes to show what we will do for our kids.”
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.