Bester students welcomed

August 28, 2005|By KAREN HANNA

Editor's Note: The Herald-Mail is tracking Washington County Public Schools' efforts to improve academic performance at Bester Elementary School. This is the third in a yearlong periodic series.


Just before 8 a.m.

A few sleepy-looking students sit against the brick wall near the side of Bester Elementary School by the parking lot on opening day. One nods as a teacher hurries past, asking, "Are you ready to go today?"

The YMCA's latchkey program, which begins at 6:30 a.m. every school day, already is in full swing.

Three small groups of students talk and play games as they wait for school to begin.

Second-grader Faith Karavias, 7, and three other girls sit around a cafeteria table, hunched over a game of UNO.

The girls all say they are looking forward to school, and Faith knows right away what subject would most benefit one of her younger friends.


"I bet the best thing for you would be reading," Faith tells a first-grade girl. Faith said she already knows what she would like to study this year.

"I like the jungle, so I wanted to learn about how the animals live there," Faith said.

The site director for the YMCA program, B.J. Lushbaugh, works both before and after school to make sure children, such as Faith, have somewhere to go when school is not in session.

"They're nice and quiet this morning," Lushbaugh observes. "A lot of parents take off the first day to bring them in, but some of them just can't."

8:33 a.m.

A growing crowd of parents and students with book bags draped over their small frames and new sneakers on their feet is visible through the doors as staff gather in the hallway outside kindergarten classrooms.

Principal Kathy Stiles speaks the words many students have dreaded since the start of summer: "The staff is now going to let students in the building ..."

In the main hallway by the offices, a gauntlet of teachers and administrators greet the opening-day onslaught.

Stiles smiles as each student trudges across the threshold, and then says as if by rote, "Welcome. Go to your class. Go to your class. Know where you're going?"

In Room 142, teacher Terri Mullican shows kindergartners the cubbies where they will put their bags and jackets.

Parents reach into pockets for money to give their children for lunch, and the kindergartners throw bills in pencil boxes and in plain sight on shelves. Mullican advises parents of lunch buyers to set up pre-paid accounts for their children.

One man says he can't. He hasn't any money.

Parents reluctant to let go of their children's hands and leave stand and take in the classroom.

Marsha Alexander's jaw is set, her eyes unblinking. It's her daughter's first day.

"I'm kind of nervous about leaving her. It's her first time in school," Alexander says. While 5-year-old Courtney is excited, Alexander musters only a one-word reply about whether she's sad.


8:53 a.m.

Students in Tiffany Tresler's fifth-grade class chow down on cereal and juice - breakfasts are provided free to all Bester students every day - as they fill in a worksheet that includes questions about their favorite colors, places, books and television shows.

Retro lamps, soft music and cushy pillows scattered on a rug in the back add a little atmosphere to the room, which Tresler painted blue over the summer.

Tresler, a third-year teacher who worked two years at Eastern Elementary School with Stiles, heads up a fifth-grade department of novices. She's new to the school, a fact she shares almost immediately when a lost-looking girl wanders in.

Tresler shows the new student to a table near the back where school supplies are heaped like presents under a Christmas tree.

Tresler takes her seat in front of the students, who sit in groupings of desks, and she tells them she has waited all summer to meet them. She was known as the strictest teacher at Eastern, she says.

"I promise I will never be mean," Tresler said. "I may be strict: The rules are the rules ... I promise you the past two years, even though I was the strictest teacher, my kids still loved me."

About 9:05 a.m.

One of the boys in Tresler's room is acting up.

He boos when Tresler talks about reading, and another sighs when she explains the daily schedule includes a period of silent reading.

Tresler assures students they will learn to enjoy reading in her room.

"I have not yet in two years had a student who was not a wonderful reader when they left my room," Tresler tells them.

She's not amused by the booing, however, and she gives a Bester buck to one student who tries to ignore the boy's commentary. The green paper slips are redeemable for rewards.

When Assistant Principal Teri Williamson stops by, Tresler acknowledges the class has had a little trouble understanding "tacit approval," but she predicts problems will be "cleared up right away."

9:30 a.m.

Tresler's class is going over answers to the autobiographical worksheet.

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