North Idaho welcomes thousands of students back to school Tuesday

Seasoned educator Katie Pemberton leads her eighth graders on the first day at Canfield Middle School. She challenged them to think about where intelligence comes from: are you born with it or is it developed?

North Idaho students returned to school with plenty on their minds: What should I wear? Is my phone charged? How much homework will I have? What’s for lunch? Did I remember to brush my teeth?

They probably weren’t expecting Katie Pemberton’s day-one question — how does your brain work? Pemberton is an eighth grade math teacher at Canfield Middle School in Coeur d’Alene.

About 33,500 students headed back to school on a bright, cloudless Tuesday morning in North Idaho. Twenty-five districts opened their elementary and high school doors, greeting kindergartners beginning their educational journey and seasoned seniors thinking about life after high school.

Over at Priest River Lamanna High School, two seniors returning late to campus after lunch urged the office staff to let them back in class, because — they tried to explain — ordering a hamburger and fries should not take 15 minutes, but that’s what caused them to be late.

At Canfield Middle, Pemberton’s eighth graders were greeted with nurturing words, and then it was time to set the tone: think tank brain work, followed by a puzzle task to build collaboration. Later this year, geometry, linear equations, Pythagorean Theorem and graphing.

“Okay, so now we’re gonna grow some dendrites,” Pemberton said, while interlocking her fingers. Dendrites look like branches and are part of neurons.

Math students work with a puzzle on the first day of school in Coeur d’Alene.

“So go ahead and start putting your fingers out like you’re growing dendrites. Now grab another neuron, the other hand. Now as we grow and learn and our brain learns, the dendrites are starting to grow,” she demonstrated. 

Week one for Lake Pend Oreille School District Superintendent Becky Meyer is busy, visiting her schools and classrooms. Her welcome to parents reads, “Our staff has been working hard to ensure a smooth transition and supportive learning environment for every student who walks through our doors on September 5th.”

After 29 years in education, Coeur d’Alene superintendent Shon Hocker still enjoys the first day of school.

“I love the excitement that comes with a new school year, watching students embark on a new year of growth and opportunity. I enjoy watching students participating in their favorite extracurricular activities, such as volleyball and football. There is nothing quite like the fall season.  The air just seems a little crisper,” Hocker said.

Overseeing the state’s eighth largest district, Hocker is also hopeful that there will be limited challenges.

“Our facilities look good and our staff are excited about the new school year. However, inevitably, things come up that create some last minute adjustments or challenges.  For example, the first few days of school are essential to let us know if we have the right number of teachers in the right placement for our students. Last minute hiring of teachers or reassignment of teachers can be a challenge,” Hocker said.

West Bonner schools opened their doors Tuesday to about 1,000 students from across the rural district. Superintendent Branden Durst talks with a career technical education instructor at the high school.

Farther north in West Bonner County School District, discord with the new superintendent and a recall of two school board leaders were the main challenges as they welcomed about 1,000 students across five schools.

Because of last week’s controversial school board meeting, the first day of school for superintendent Branden Durst was not what he anticipated. He planned to meet students and parents at the door but because of “unforeseen circumstances,” that was not possible, he said.

Enrollment is trending about normal, Durst said. And they filled nearly all of their teacher vacancies, including the special education director, who was hired as a contractor from a nearby school district until they find a permanent solution.

“We’re fortunate to get good applicants. I’ve been praying hard to get the right people, so it doesn’t surprise me,” he said, adding that his building administrators deserve much of the credit.

Like the other superintendents, Durst was in the schools Tuesday discussing programs and plans with his administrators. At the high school, they are planning to submit a career technical education grant proposal to the state’s Idaho Career Ready Students Program.

The wood shop instructor was busy planning his school year when Durst stopped in. He said classes are full and there is demand for workers at the mill, so a program expansion would be a good idea.

As day-one wrapped up in Coeur d’Alene, Hocker added, “What gets me excited about education is knowing that we prepare the foundation for every career. Very few things are as rewarding as watching students grow day-by-day, week-by-week, and year-by-year.”

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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