By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterJanuary 9, 2014
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (January 9, 2014) -- Children on Fort Rucker braved the coldest day of the season to jump back into the school year, but cold weather couldn't stop them from experiencing some of what 2014 has in store.
Fort Rucker Primary School and Fort Rucker Elementary School welcomed back their students Jan. 7 with high hopes and new beginnings for the new year, but both share the common goal of making sure that education comes first, according to Vicki Gilmer, FRES principal.
"Every year we just try to be consistent for the children's return to school," she said. "We've built a really great system and have a really great structure with our programs, and when the children return, they know right what they're coming back to."
Teachers had a workday Jan. 6 to get report cards, classrooms and lesson plans ready for the students' return, but more than anything, the students had to come back to a top-notch education program.
"(The children) know when they return that they're going to be doing fantastic project-based learning, investigations, explorations and inquiries, and we just want to continue that throughout the rest of the school year," said Gilmer. "We reflect, look how we can change and make improvements on it each year."
One of the bigger challenges that teachers face when coming back from a break is getting their students back into the routines they were used to beforehand.
"I think the most important part is just getting your mindset right," said the FRES principal. "A lot of us unplug during the break. We stay up too late or something like that, and I think that's the hardest part for the kids -- getting up and getting back into their routine, but once they're back, they're right and ready to go."
There is a short transition period for students at the primary school, as well.
"It always takes a couple of days for the students to adjust, but once they do they're fine," said Sylvia Thornton, FRPS music teacher. "One thing I try to do is (keep them) constantly going, and it's like that in most of the pods. Once we finish one thing, it's on to the next."
Although the transition back into the school routine can be tough for some, the focus is set on the new year and what's to come.
"It's a whole new nine weeks, so when they come back, everything is new again," said Gilmer. "It's a grand introduction -- new concepts in math, new concepts in science and social studies. That excitement builds back up, and the teachers and the kids are very excited about being back to continue their learning."
Gilmer said that the students will start off by spending time talking about what they got for Christmas and what they did during the holidays to give them a chance to express what they experienced during their time off.
The elementary school also has many upcoming events for the students to look forward to, including events and activities for the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day; preparation for spring testing for grades three through six; and switching out students for the after school clubs, something that Gilmer said the students are very excited about.
"For the testing, we prepare to shine every year, and the children really do -- they're remarkable," she said. "I think it's because of the consistent engagement that the kids have. If you keep the level of excitement up, they really become engaged and it shows."
The sixth grade students also have a drama production to look forward to in the spring, and students of all grades can look forward to the science fair later in the year, which is a product of the school being a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math school.
The primary school is also working on STEM projects for the upcoming year, and although they are not officially a STEM school, Bridget Lester, gifted resource teacher at FRPS, would like to see that change one day.
"We're coming up with a plan for our teachers to implement some STEM programs," she said. "STEM programs are important because of the whole collaborative nature of the program. Students learn to work cooperatively and share ideas."
Some of Lester's students have already had the opportunity to participate in some STEM activities such as building gingerbread houses, creating an assembly line to create a snack, making a nut sorter for squirrels and creating a house to keep a snowman from melting.
Lester said the program helps students learn that it's not about just the end product, but the process, and trial and error.
The new year also has many other activities in store for the students of the primary school, including music performances, and more activities to involve parents and the community.
"We want to get parents more involved and we're working hard on a partnership with our community and outreach," said Thornton.
The primary school had such a success with its Operation Celebration, that another like-minded event is planned for March. Thornton said there aren't any details about the event, but the parents will be involved with the children.
With all the events planned throughout the rest of the school year, the students are sure to keep busy, but regardless of what's planned, Gilmer said the teachers are just happy to have their students back.
"It's great to have a break, but there's nothing like having a building full of children," she said.