ALPENA - The first day of school is just around the corner, and students aren't the only ones excited to be back in the classroom. School staff and teachers have been preparing for students' return since the end of last school year.
"We're already planning for next year before the students walk out of school in June," Thunder Bay Junior High Principal Steve Genschaw said. "We work on our master schedule and spend a lot of time balancing classloads and making sure the students have the classes they need."
Over the summer administrators and staff review yearly documents like handbooks and rules and make the necessary changes to keep schools safe and up-to-date.
"We do everything we can to ensure students are successful," Genschaw said. "It's a common misconception that everybody gets the summer off, but we all work year-round planning and getting things organized."
He said the transportation center has been working throughout the summer getting buses and routes organized to minimize miles.
"We are the second biggest geographically in the state for miles of bus travel," Genschaw said. "Our transportation costs are huge and the drivers and maintenance do a great job getting things ready."
Alpena High School Principal Matt Poli has been meeting with teachers going over goals for the year and working on professional development and classroom time.
"Every year it's something new," Poli said. "The first few days of school are about building relationships, and having a four-day week really helps with the transition back into the classroom. Before that first day teachers and staff are busy getting books ready, rearranging rooms and setting desks. One of the biggest things is to make sure all of the materials they need for the first week are in place with copies made and desks placed."
Poli said one of the most fun and difficult parts of the first few days of school for teachers is trying to make students comfortable and still be able to keep all of the academics in line.
"It's like that old saying 'you never get a second chance at a first impression,'" Poli said. "Getting things ready and being prepared with a classroom management plan is important. A lot of the preparation is mental, and the teachers always try to tie the curriculum into fun so everyone enjoys the experience."
Erin Kieliszewski, Title 1 teacher at Besser Elementary, said getting ready for school to start is an all summer event, with teachers collaborating to create class lists, attending workshops and training, and preparing for curriculum changes.
"Teachers are always looking at new technology to incorporate into their classroom," Kieliszewski said. "They also are on the look out for school supplies. They keep an eye on retail sales, ads, garage sales, anything to improve their classroom."
While preparing for the fall, teachers also rely heavily on the help of custodians in the school.
"The custodians keep everything looking fantastic and help with making sure teachers have the tables and desks they need for their rooms," Kieliszewski said. "When the end of August rolls around, we're just as excited as the kids are to come back to school. It's wonderful to see their smiling faces back in the classroom."
Ella White Principal Melissa Schaedig said she is more than ready for the school year to get underway.
"It's a lot of planning and prep for the adults as well as for the kids," Schaedig said. "It's amazing how busy folks are getting ready for school to start."
Some hurdles for the Alpena school district include making sure the right number of textbooks are in each building, getting computers ready to go and passwords set up within the technology department, making sure enough copy and lined paper is available to teachers and students and keeping students safe during the school year.
"It's such a challenging career and we are so blessed to have our students," Schaedig said. "It's so exciting when you see the kids are ready to go. The kids really do have a way of making your day."
Genschaw, Poli, Kieliszewski and Schaedig all said they don't sleep the night before the first day of school, because like the kids, they are too excited for the next day.
The first day of school is Sept. 3, and Michigan State Police Community Service Trooper Ashley Simpson has a few safety tips for students and parents to keep in mind for the new year.
"If you're in junior high or high school, remember not to take valuables to school to avoid theft of those items," Simpson said. "For elementary students, the most important thing is not to talk to strangers. Remember 'Stranger Danger.'
"Bus safety is important too, don't distract the bus driver. If you walk to school, make sure you know your route and stay on the route you planned. Always remember safety near the street. Don't be a bully, and tell a teacher if you see bullying going on at school."
Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.