Area students head back to school

Originally published in the Times-Call >>


Soaring Heights fourth-grader Lincoln Peterson was more than ready for a new year at his new school.
 
"I was excited to see some familiar faces, and I already made some new friends," he said. "I'm excited to have a great fourth-grade time."
 
Classmate Gwyneth Veenendaal was right there with him, listing off new technology, a new teacher and a new building as the things she's excited about.
 
"I love new schools because they're fresh," she said. "It's a new start."
 
Excitement was Wednesday's word of the day as the first classes of students filed into Soaring Heights, Erie's new PK-8 school.
 
"We've been waiting all this time for school to start," Principal Cyrus Weinberger said. "I'm most excited for what we're going to achieve together."
 
Many St. Vrain Valley and Boulder Valley students said good-bye to summer and headed back to school Wednesday.
 
Elementary students are back in class, while most sixth and ninth graders started Wednesday with an orientation day. The rest of the secondary students start Thursday.
 
About 31,000 students are signed up to attend Boulder Valley's schools this school year, with the district predicting stable enrollment. St. Vrain Valley is growing, estimating an enrollment of 32,000 students.
 
Along with Soaring Heights, St. Vrain on Wednesday opened Grand View Elementary School in Frederick's Wyndham Hill neighborhood and a new Innovation Center in Longmont.
 
At Grand View, Principal Kirsten McNeill said Wednesday was "a wonderful start," with teachers already using design thinking practices in classrooms. About 234 students are enrolled K-5, plus another 38 preschool students.
 
"The building has come alive with laughter and learning," she said. "Students are telling me this is the best school ever. It feels wonderful to have such excited staff and students working together."
 
The new schools are part of the $260.3 million bond issue approved by St. Vrain voters in 2016. A third new elementary school also was included in the project list, with the district planning to build it either in the Carbon Valley or Erie, depending on growth.
 
Though Soaring Heights just opened, it's already at its student capacity in fast-growing Erie. About 1,060 students were enrolled on the first day, including about 50 preschool students, Weinberger, the school's principal, said.
 
Administrators initially expected about 900 students at the school, but enrollment continued through the summer, with about 15 students added to the class lists at the meet-the-teacher night two days earlier.
 
"We keep getting new students," he said.
 
Soaring Heights, located on 22 acres next to Erie High School, joins a middle school and three elementary schools on the St. Vrain side of Erie.
 
Students at Soaring Heights are coming from the St. Vrain Erie schools, plus private schools and schools in other districts and states.
 
As Weinberger made the rounds to the classrooms, he reminded students not to worry if things go wrong as they learn to navigate a new school.
 
"It's OK," he said. "We'll help you out."
 
Fourth-grader Ava Inguagiato said she's an expert on being new after switching schools often before her dad retired from the military. She spent the last two years at Louisville Elementary, noting her old school was "so much smaller."
 
Though the building is bigger than what she's used to, she said, she likes that it's a brand new school.
 
"With a new school, everybody is new," she said.
 
Second-grader Bella Soto said she started school with a mixture of nervousness and excitement.
 
"I thought I would get lost," she said.
 
Though the building is unfamiliar, she declared it "really cool."
 
Sixth-graders had the middle school wing to themselves Wednesday, with seventh- and eighth-graders joining them Thursday.
 
"You have more freedom than you ever had at elementary school, but you also have some great responsibility," she said, urging the students to act as mentors and role models to their younger classmates. "I know how smart you guys are and how high you can achieve. We're going to push you."
 
Along with hearing from administrators, the sixth-graders met teachers, took tours, practiced opening lockers and played games.
 
In one game, students stood in a circle and took turns saying one thing they liked — reading, football, baby goats and creepy parts of the ocean all made the list — then classmates who liked the same thing switched spots with them.
 
Sixth-grade math teacher Shane Farley, who previously worked in Denver Public Schools with gifted students, said his goal for the first day was to help them get to know him and each other.
 
"You can't do anything without a relationship," he said. "I want them to feel comfortable and welcomed, and I want them to appreciate how awesome this building is. They have such an amazing opportunity."
 
Sixth-grader Taylor McMaster started with the advantage of already knowing the building. As a member of the school's leadership team, he helped give tours of the school during the summer.
 
He said he was "100-percent excited" to go to a new school after attending Erie's Black Rock Elementary since preschool.
 
"I was excited for a new change and more freedom and iPads," he said, while also admitting to a few nerves since it's a new grade.
 
Audrey Chapman, who wrote her locker combination on the side of her hand, said the hardest part of her first day as a middle schooler was opening her locker.
 
"I had someone helping me this morning, but now I'm able to do it," she said.
 
Keira Riemenschneider, whose sister will attend classes next door at Erie High School, said she likes that the middle schoolers have their own space and is most looking forward to math and making new friends.
 
"I like trying stuff that's new," she said.