Thousands of North Texas students head back to school

Posted Monday, Aug. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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In addition to new backpacks stuffed with school supplies and the usual first-day jitters and tears, police officers were part of the back-to-school scene for some North Texas youngsters Monday.

Southlake officer Bob Slusser greeted children at Carroll Elementary School, one of the district’s 11 campuses where armed police officers will work full-time this year.

The Southlake security initiative stems is a reaction to the mass shooting of children and staff on Dec. 14 at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. The program is being funded in large part by the Southlake Crime Control and Prevention District.

Southlake resident Ilia Kostov and his wife walked their two children to their respective kindergarten and third-grade classrooms. They said they were glad an officer was present.

“It’s more secure,” Kostov said. “But it’s also a reminder of the tragedy. It’s a constant reminder of why we have to do this.”

Slusser also won over Angela Smith, president of the Parent Teacher Organization, who spoke with Slusser as she dropped off her two children.

“After talking to him, he’s not a big scary policeman,” she said.

Slusser said part of his job is to make sure children know that they can feel comfortable around him and other police officers.

Increased campus security was also evident at Fort Worth schools, where a partnership between the school district and the city of Fort Worth is placing trained volunteers near 10 elementary campuses.

The volunteers from Code Blue: Citizens on Patrol use bikes, cars or golf carts to patrol the perimeter of the campuses during the school day.

James Weatherford expects to be on duty twice a week at Western Hills Elementary School. His bike has two radios to communicate with school and police authorities.

“They gave us pointers to watch out for things that are out of the ordinary — too many backpacks and large coats in the summer,” Weatherford said. “So far, everything has been normal.

“Our priority here is to be fundamentally invisible.”

First-day jitters

Seandra Jefferson showed up at Western Hills Elementary at 6 a.m. to find out the location of the fifth-grade classroom assigned to her daughter, Chania Franklin, 10.

“The door was locked, but there was a sign posted on the door,” Jefferson said.

The family returned just before school began at 8 a.m. Chania was wearing new purple tennis shoes she got as a birthday gift in June and carrying a matching book bag crammed with school supplies still in their packages.

Second-grader James Lyons, 7, carried a bag stuffed with crayons, glue, folders and notebooks. He is transferring from a Kennedale school but already has friends whom he met in his new neighborhood.

“Mom, did you bring my Spiderman pencils?” he asked.

She reassured him they were in his bag.

“Yes!” he said. “That’s a relief.”

At Daggett Middle School in Fort Worth, students were greeted by new Principal Cynthia Brown, who arrived at 6:30 a.m.

Brown said she and other staff and teachers made “Welcome back” signs and hung balloons. “We wanted to make the first day of school feel like a celebration,” Brown said.

She said she especially wanted to make sure that about 180 sixth-graders started middle school successfully.

Veronica Colunga and her sixth-grade son, Jose, arrived a few minutes before the first bell rang at 9:20 a.m.

“I was anxious,” Jose said, but he’s ready to tackle his favorite subject, science.

‘Fancy school’

Pre-kindergartners through sixth-graders looked up in wonder as they walked into James and Barbara Adams Elementary in Arlington.

The new 111,000-square-foot, $22 million school is the first two-story elementary campus in the Arlington school district.

Diana Valenzuela walked her son Christian to the doors for his first day of fourth-grade. Christian transferred from Atherton Elementary, one of the three nearby schools at maximum capacity.

Christian told his mom he was excited to go to a “fancy school,” one that has collaboration areas that feature dry erase walls and modular seating (think clubhouses for kids), three outdoor classrooms that include a giant painted maps of Texas, the United States and the world, and state-of-the-art classrooms.

First-grade teacher Tamara Gaffney transferred from Atherton and said she was especially excited about the collaboration areas where students can work on reading sessions and group projects. She said she had spent time on Pinterest looking for ideas to engage her students.

Arlington is a bring-your-own-technology district. The shiny brown chairs in the new collaboration rooms feature charging stations for iPads and cellphones.

Gaffney looked through her classroom door and smiled.

“This is the first year I’ve taught at Arlington ISD where my classroom has been under the maximum amount for student capacity,” she said.

3 districts start today

Children in Burleson, Keller and Northwest schools got one more day of summer break. They start school today.

The Northwest school district’s 17th elementary campus, Wayne A. Cox Elementary School in Roanoke, will open.

Northwest school students get district-provided laptops and netbooks equipped with wireless networking and software, including the district’s filtering system, which restricts questionable websites.

All high school students will get a Dell Latitude 10 tablet, and middle schoolers will receive netbooks. Secondary teachers will also get Latitude tablets, and elementary teachers will get Apple iPads.

Staff writers Monica Nagy and Dustin Dangli contributed to this report.

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326

Twitter: @jessamybrown

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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