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A day of excitement, trauma, rising hopes, falling tears, irresistible giggles and mind-numbing horror spilled out of a conga line of rumbling school buses on Monday as some 2,400 students lined up for the first day of school in the Payson Unified School District.
The first day of school ritual this week had a whole extra twist of chaos, with new principals at every school site, a host of new teachers and a surprising bumper crop of first-graders.
Teachers and administrators scurried through the day, coping with the wholesale changes in the district and the predictable bafflement of the students. The district’s support staff also struggled to make the last-minute changes that stemmed from an unusual number of resignations, support staff cuts and new hires.
For the youngest and oldest students in the Payson Unified School District, school started on Friday, but for all others, the first official day was Monday, July 29.
At Payson High School (PHS), the freshmen class that will graduate in 2017 had an orientation on Friday morning run by the juniors and seniors in Link Crew, hoping to take some of the stress out of Monday’s official start of classes for the quavering freshmen.
“It was a great turn out,” said Brian Maab, new PHS principal, with nearly the whole freshman class represented.
Culinary Arts teacher Devon Wells snapped photos of the Link Crew running games with the incoming students, such as 64 Squares — a far cry from the freshman hazing that takes place on some campuses.
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“The Link Crew told personal stories from their freshman year while they walked across squares on the floor,” said Wells.
Maab loves the Link Crew program. He used it at the Queen Creek school where he served as a vice principal and saw freshman feel more at home of the new campus.
At the end of the orientation, freshmen signed a pledge to graduate. While on the gym floor, students compared schedules and reconnected with old friends before the last weekend of summer.
Across town, Payson Elementary School (PES) hosted an open house last week for kindergarten through second grade students from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Families, including Debbie Petefish and her first grade daughter Sammie and fifth grade son Mark, lined up outside the office door by 2:45.
Inside, teachers, secretaries and aides scurried about to get classes ready for families to visit. “OK teachers, we have about three minutes before doors open,” came a voice on the overhead speakers.
“Are you ready?” teachers whispered to each other as they passed in the hallway.
Promptly at 3 p.m. the doors opened to a steady stream of mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.
The Petefish family went straight to Leslie Reisdorf’s classroom.
Once there, Reisdorf had paperwork for families to fill out and told them about what to expect in this big year for students.
Since the state has started the Move on When Reading policy, students must read at close to grade level by third grade or they will repeat third grade. Studies show that the best way to avoid that fate is to hit reading hard in the first grade.
Debbie told Reisdorf that Sammie has been practicing over the summer and is ready to go.
Sammie, whose older brother Mark will be in Bruce Haught’s class, while her other brother will start high school this year, said she likes her books.
“We’re ready for the new year to start!” said Debbie as Sammie smiled.