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August 20, 2013

‘I felt karate-ness’: Students, parents, staff aflutter with emotions on first day

TERRE HAUTE — When Mark Jewell had to pick up his daughter at Ouabache Elementary School Monday morning, he already knew the drill.

He provided identification and signed in with School Protection Officer Bob Hines, something Jewell didn’t mind.

“I like it. They need it,” Jewell said. “That’s the way all the schools need to be.” Having the officer at the front entrance assures him of the safety of his daughter when she is at school.

The new program to place armed officers in Vigo County schools was implemented in the spring, and parents had an opportunity to get used to the change then, said Principal Susan Cobb.

Parents “are comfortable with it,” she said. “They already knew him [Hines] and that he would be here.” A police squad car is stationed at the front of the school.

Hines, a retired Terre Haute police officer, said his job “is to ensure the safety of children and staff” and make sure that those inside the school are supposed to be there.

Hines’ wife, Tracy, is a teacher at the school, and he already knows many of the families. Students call him “Officer Bob.”

The SPO program is a joint effort involving the school district, Terre Haute Police Department and Vigo County Sheriff’s Department. Other partners include the Terre Haute mayor, Vigo County Council and Vigo County prosecutor.

Those who serve as SPOs include off-duty and retired law enforcement officers.

Ouabache Elementary has some other changes this year, including new classroom walls and doors that have replaced the school’s “open concept.” Before, classrooms had thin divider walls, and it was easier to hear what happened in the classroom next door.

The changes strengthen security and will help students better focus on classroom instruction, officials say.

The front office also has changes that improve security, with the school secretary stationed at a window that faces the main entrance.

Of course, all parents and visitors must first make contact with the school protection officer before they go anywhere in the building.

I I I

Monday marked the first day of classes in the Vigo County School Corp. At Ouabache, children proudly walked in with new shoes, clothes and lunch boxes.

It is Cobb’s second year at Ouabache, and like many educators, she admits to getting little sleep the night before school starts.

“It’s that nervous butterfly feeling,” she said. “You’re excited about it. Worried about it. You think you’ve got everything ready to go, but you’re not sure what might happen. You have plans A, B and C ready to go and you’ve gone through all the scenarios.”

The school, located on Maple Avenue just east of Third Street, has 335 students. “You’re excited to see the kids back,” Cobb said. She talked to children about what they did over summer break. “They give you hugs again.”

During lunch, some kindergarten teachers reflected on the first morning of the 2013-14 school year. Kathy Kamp has taught 17 years, while Alex Englert and Kate Kesler are in their second years of teaching.

Kindergarten students are learning a whole new routine, Kamp said. “They’ll be tired by the end of the day. Tonight, they’ll sleep,” she said. She will, too.

Dedicated teachers have been coming into school for weeks to prepare their rooms and lessons. Englert was at school from noon until 7 p.m. Sunday, and she was back at 6:45 a.m. Monday. She’s a lot more organized this year, she said. “I have all my routines down, so teaching it to them is much easier.”

Kesler asked her students about their emotions and how they felt Monday morning. Some said, “good,” some said, “shy,” and one boy said, “I felt karate-ness.”

I I I

For Micahlyn Allen, Monday marked her first day as a first-year teacher. “It’s going well. I’m learning class dynamics already,” she said. She teaches art and will work with all Ouabache students.

“I’m trying to get them to listen and pay attention and get back in school mode,” Allen said. Art is a class most students enjoy. “They want to come. It’s a nice break in their day,” she said.

Allen was nervous about her first day to teach, but “once the kids came in, it was just me and them and getting down to business,” she said.

While not all students are thrilled that summer vacation has come to an end, Kyle Young says, “I’m proud of myself that I’m in first grade.” He’s ready to be back and is looking forward to learning math.

Another student said, “I want to stay at school. It’s so fun.” He enjoys “mostly recess,” as well as arts and crafts time.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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