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Making the grade

Aloha-Huber Park School first-grade teacher Diane McColl gets ready for the first day of school with a lot of unpacking, planning
by: JONATHAN HOUSE, With just one week before her classroom is filled with energetic first-graders, Diane McColl works hard to cover the empty spaces on her walls and unpack boxes. McColl, a teacher at the new Aloha-Huber Park School, has been putting together her room and preparing curriculum since Aug. 22. The new school year begins Sept. 5.

As summer draws to a close, children, parents and teachers everywhere are gearing up for the beginning of the new school year.

Though the actual start date varies from district to district, Sept. 5 is the first day for those who will be attending the brand new Aloha-Huber Park School. In preparation for that day, first-grade teacher Diane McColl found herself unpacking boxes. A lot of boxes. One-hundred-and-thirty-five, to be exact.

As of Friday afternoon, she only had about 30 more to sort through, but with less than two weeks before a couple dozen 6-year-olds will fill her classroom, McColl was getting a little antsy about having everything in place.

'For me, it's extremely important (to be prepared) because first-graders are so young, you can't take your eyes off them,' she said. 'You don't have time to do little tasks. It's really important to be ready because days drive by because they are so action filled.'

While McColl normally would not have had to worry about unpacking so much material, she did this year because of the recent move to a brand new building. Even with all the added work and responsibility that has gone along with it, she said she is excited about the change of scenery around her.

'We're in a brand new building, and it's beautiful,' McColl said. 'I think there's going to be a lot of excitement.'

And excitement there is.

Principal Patti Book said she is looking forward to life in the new school, as was an eighth-grader she had spoken with who said this was going to be 'the best year ever.'

'It's just an amazing, amazing facility,' Book said. 'We are so used to such a different kind of facility … you won't hear any complaints from people.'

In addition to a physical change, the new Aloha-Huber Park School now offers a pre-kindergarten and an eighth-grade option. Enrollment at the new facility should end up somewhere close to 900 students, with 910 being projected at this time. That is up from the 840 students who attended the former school.

Book said the new building will give teachers and students a chance to work together without having to deal with the overcrowding issues that plagued them at their old building. No longer will teachers have to lead reading instruction in the hallways or use the dozen or so portables, nor will they have to endure the construction that went on for the better part of last year, limiting important playground space. They will, however, have to work hard to get everything ready in time before the first students arrive on Tuesday.

'There are a lot of things to do, but everybody is doing it with the best of attitudes,' Book said.

This includes McColl, who is expecting to have 25 or 26 children in her class, much like she did the year prior. A teacher for 14 years, 10 of which have been full-time with Aloha, McColl knows how much work it takes to get ready for the start of the school year. She said that while some people may think being a teacher is an easy job full of breaks and the entire summer off, many times they don't realize just how much goes into each day of instruction.

A usual day for McColl sees her arriving at school about an hour before the first bell goes off at 8:25 a.m. She then teaches dozens of energetic children until the 3:05 p.m. release time, after which she stays behind cleaning and doing prep work until close to 5.

Once she arrives at home she still has a couple hours of work to do to before she is ready for the next day of teaching.

The long days that continue at home is something McColl said is difficult for people to imagine when they work nine-to-five jobs that end upon leaving the office.

'I think that unless you are a teacher and have actually done it … you don't really know (all the work that is involved),' McColl said. 'I think it's hard for people to visualize. There's just always something to do.'

Even with having the summer off, McColl said she often uses the time to catch up on and enjoy all the things she neglected during the school year, such as relaxing, spending time with family and just unwinding.

McColl's summer officially ended when she started setting up her classroom on Aug. 22. Between that day and the first day of school, she will find time to organize her classroom, attend meetings and participate in staff training. She will also have to get her teaching materials ready for the first day of instruction, which is what Book said is a priority for everyone at Aloha-Huber Park.

'The most important things we're doing is planning for instruction and mapping our goals out,' Book said. 'We are working nonstop on being ready. (The teachers) know what's important.'

One way that McColl and the four other first grade teachers prepare is to work together.

'We're such a big school; we have a lot of collaboration,' she said. 'Everybody supports each other. We're real cohesive that way, and I think it helps our instruction.'

McColl, a Tigard High School graduate, said that she enjoys all the parts of the school year for different reasons. She said the end of the year is exciting because summer is approaching. Winter is a fun time because routines are established and the students are 'revved up' to learn. This is also when most of the first-graders are really beginning to read.

McColl said she likes the fall because it is a time when she first gets to know the children and establishes routines that will last throughout the year. It is also the most exhausting because she has to put a lot of thought into laying down the rules that the children will be able to follow.

'I think the most work is in the fall,' she said.