When freshman James Huddlestun arrived at Payson High School Wednesday, his big worry was getting lost.
"The high school is a lot bigger than the middle school," he said Thursday. "I've been late to almost all my classes, but I've been getting there."
As he made his way from life science to pre-algebra to weight class to Spanish to English 1 to FFA to freshman football practice, he mapped out his impressions of Payson High.
"They expect you to do more here, but you have more choices and more freedom," the former Rim Country Middle School student said. "I like it. It's a little bit better than the middle school because we have more freedom and we get to do more."
Although Huddlestun found the size of Payson High School overwhelming, foreign exchange student Thais Scorsin, who comes from a city of two million people in southern Brazil, said she thinks the town and the school are quaint.
"They're small, kind of cute, all the streets have trees," she said. "It's very exciting to know new people and make new friends."
Scorsin, who will be living with host parents Jay and Melanie Scott and studying at Payson High School through the Rotary International Student Exchange program, said Payson High is much different than the high school she attended in Curitiba.
"Here the students go from class to class," she said. "There the teachers go from class to class. Here everything is in English and I'm not used to the words yet. I'm unsure of some of the questions and unsure I really understand, so it takes more time."
Scorsin has been studying English for two years and speaks and understands the language well enough to attend class. But despite the excitement of living in another country, the senior, who has been in Payson two weeks, is a bit homesick.
"I miss everything," she said. "I miss my city, parents, friends, family -- everything."
Huddlestun and Scorsin are two of the 2,921 students in Payson and 249 students in Pine who headed to class Wednesday for what turned out to be a relatively smooth first day of school.
According to reports from the area's seven public schools, the first day of the fall semester went off without a hitch.
First-day student enrollment in the Payson School District rose 161 from last year's total of 2,760.
The current enrollment figure does not include the 60 Julia Randall Elementary School preschool students who are expected to start class in September.
Pine-Strawberry School enrollment, which ballooned to 265 at the beginning of last year but rounded out at 232 students by the end of the year, bounced back to 249 students this week.
Enrollment rose slightly at Rim Country Middle School from 605 students last year to 638 students this year.
"I'm anticipating that we'll have 690 to 700 students by Labor Day," Rim Country Middle School Principal Frank Larby said. "It's tight. Some classrooms are at capacity -- 30 students. The predicted max for this school is 750 students, but once you start crossing 700, you really start feeling and seeing a difference. It's really too many people on one piece of property."
The school is out of classroom space, he said. Payson School Board members have been considering options ranging from expanding the middle school campus to building another middle school in Star Valley.
"We'll be looking to the board for guidance," Larby said. "It will come down to the board making a decision on allocating district resources to give us some relief."
Enrollment also rose at Payson Elementary School from 421 students last year to 441 students this year, and at Frontier Elementary School from 432 students last year to 453 students this year.
Lower grades more crowded
First- and second-grade classrooms at Frontier Elementary School were hardest hit, FES Principal Sue Myers said. "Our first grades are over our 26-student classroom target," she said, "and our second grades are larger."
"We were able to add a fourth teacher to third grade because it had grown so big, so third-grade (classrooms) are at a good size now. We're just bursting at the seams everywhere, but first grade is our biggest problem."
Student enrollment dropped slightly at Julia Randall Elementary School from 385 last year to 360 this year without preschool enrollment, and at Payson High School from 870 students last year to 865 students this year.
"I'd like to emphasize what a great start we've had," PHS Assistant Principal Barry Smith said, "and how cooperative the students have been."
The high school installed an automated phone system this year to automatically notify parents when their children miss class. Parents must call the school at 474-2233, ext. 2043 to verify whether the absence is excused or unexcused.
"They really need to call us back and let us know," attendance coordinator Tammy Earl said. "If they don't, their children may not get the credit they deserve. If they feel an error has been made, they can call me during school hours and I'll verify the absence with the teacher."
Payson Center for Success, Payson's charter high school, which has a maximum student limit of 48, is at capacity and has students on a waiting list.
This year, the charter school started three weeks earlier than Payson's other public schools as part of a modified school schedule that gives students two weeks off every quarter.