Mark Twain Elementary School students and parents began lining up well before 8 a.m. when doors officially opened Monday. Principal Ruthlee Caloiaro was eager to see the front area of her school filled with families and students again and she was especially thankful to have experienced staff return who knew just what to do. “The great thing about Mark Twain is, honestly, our families stay here for a long time,” Caloiaro said. “They finish their careers. When we go through and we have students here, when we get to the fifth grade, about 70% have started pre-K here. So I’m excited that they continue their career, we know our teachers, we know our families, and that makes for a great sense of community.” The first day of the 2021-22 school year began Monday with as much anticipation and relief for everyone in the Carson City School District returning to a five-day, in-person instructional day. Mark Twain staff welcomed everyone as buses or families dropped off students and teachers guided them to their classrooms and breakfast was prepared. District services were on track and school events thus far were underway to proceed as expected.
Empire Elementary Principal Susan Squires, right, performs “I Feel Lucky” by Mary Chapin Carpenter with CAPS Tour member April Gaddis, far left, and Empire music teacher Cassidy Robins on the piano supporting her on the stage for the competition. (Photo: Jessica Garcia/Nevada Appeal)
Caloiaro said maintaining positive relationships with students and families was important to the school. As of Sunday, the school was at a count of 589 for enrollment. But for Mark Twain and CCSD, figures always adjust within the first few weeks of the first quarter. She was, however, pleased with staffing, noting a few new transfers from other sites from last year and one new instructor entering the profession for the first time. “I have really high-quality people,” she said enthusiastically. New teacher Kiley Cooper attended Carson City School District as a student and is entering the family business of education, having grown up in the city with her mother and sister who also work as teachers at Mark Twain. She recently graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with her bachelor’s degree, is completing her master’s degree and is excited about beginning her career with CCSD. “I’m so excited, I’m ready to meet all the kids,” Cooper said. “Everyone here is such a close-knit community. I really love all the teachers. I came back to education because I’m from a family of educators. … I want to make a difference in all the kids’ lives.” Christina Bourne, music teacher at Mark Twain, is entering her eighth year at the school, and said she looks forward to an “amazing year” returning to a full, in-person schedule again with students and her colleagues. She noted, however, the past year did provide its advantages of helping the children in their musical skill development with digital resources while they were on their hybrid schedule. “My kids learned how to split their screens and play a digital instrument on one side and read their music on the other side,” she said. “I do think the kids, having come from the spring before, I saw the kids have this overall idea of gratitude and joy to be back in the classroom with their friends and their teachers, and that was really nice to have.” Bourne said she hopes to have outdoor concerts again, although some might still be virtual depending on the year’s circumstances and what will be considered safest for the students. Parents also were glad to see their children return to the classroom in person as well after some had struggled with the hybrid model this past year. Nicole Clapham, mother of a son and daughter who are beginning the fifth and fourth grade this week, said she was thankful for the assistance Mark Twain’s staff has provided in the past. “I think the teachers did the best they could with what they had to work with,” Clapham said. “The unknown is so hard. I think it was hard, and we were all trying to figure it all out. I think everybody did great with what we had.” She said she was happy to see both her children be able to return to some normalcy going back to the usual learning environment where they could be among their friends again. “I told my son it’s his last first day because he’s in the fifth grade and he’ll be moving on and finish elementary school on a better note,” she said. “My daughter … has the first-day jitters. ‘What class will I be in? ‘Do I have a friend?’ They’re both excited.” At Empire Elementary School, the Mustangs invited hip-hop artist CJ Luckey for an assembly on its opening day to motivate the students, helping students to learn what it means to overcome adversity in their lives. Luckey, of Dallas, came as part of his Celebrating All Persevering Students, or CAPS, tour to help kick off the school year designed for kindergarten through fifth grade students “We’re dead away to set the tone for the school year and to be able to encourage, empower and inspire our students and to let the know it’s going to be a great school year and to start it off on a high note, I’m very excited,” Luckey said of his CAPS tour.
CJ Luckey, a hip-hop artist and motivational speaker from Dallas, performs for Empire Elementary School students Monday during their first assembly on Back to School Day. Luckey has visited Empire three times in the past four years. (Photo: Jessica Garcia/Nevada Appeal)
Luckey and his team have visited 100 schools, but it was his third time coming to Empire in four years. Luckey said music has been a part of his life since he was 11, adding students are resilient and seeks to use his presentations to keep their challenges in perspective as they overcome their own personal difficulties. Luckey’s songs address respect, making the right choices, self-confidence and developing the right mindset among other concepts. He said he enjoys entering classrooms and seeing students jumping, dancing, clapping their hands and smiling as they experience excitement. “It’s incredible, it’s nothing short of amazing,” he said. “Students and educators inspire me every single day. They’re persevering and they’re overcoming obstacles, they’re going through adversity and getting through the other side of. They’re very tough and I’m super excited to see them absolutely crush the school year.” As a special treat, Principal Susan Squires and Vice Principal Nathan Brigham did a reprisal of a competition, this time performing a lip-synch battle to country music. The two held a danceoff in March as an incentive to get their students to read 1 million words, but who gradually exceeded their goal, eventually hitting 3 million words. On Monday, with Luckey and his team serving as the contest’s judges, it was a tough call to determine who won just by sheer shouts of the students, so it came down to a tie between Squires and Brigham each claiming the trophy. Superintendent Richard Stokes, speaking at Mark Twain Monday, said he was glad to see the turnout for first day back at school, recalling last year when it didn’t happen on a Monday and families had to adjust to the new hybrid model at the time. “We are going to be paying special attention to working with students, trying to assess if there are any learning gaps because of the school year we had last year, and we are hoping we can provide interventions and support and extra assistance, if needed, to help fill in gaps in learning that may have occurred,” Stokes said. “That’s a top priority for us.” He added making sure students feel included in their return to the classroom and dealing with isolation also will be of concern. “We’re also anxious that students are comfortable being back in school,” he said. “We want them to feel loved and accepted and happy in their experience in being back in school. Of course, last year was so unique and many students feel isolated and not being able to have the typical school experience, it’s really important for us to really reach out and provide whatever assistance is necessary.”