First day of school
Greenfield High School Associate Principal Thomas Gaffigan participates in a dizzy bat race, resulting in a few falls by the faculty, to liven up the first day of school on Tuesday. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »
Jordana Harper, the new superintendent of Greenfield Public Schools, meets some of the students returning to the Newton School on their first day, Tuesday. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »
Greenfield High School Principal Donna Woodcock shows returning and new students gathered in the bleachers on the first day of school at the new building, a copy of the school's newspaper from 1958 after opening a time capsule from the construction of the school back then. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »
GREENFIELD — In the middle of the school courtyard early Tuesday morning, eager high school students gathered for their first day back to school and teachers called out to students and buses delivered more students to the mix.
Amid the loud, animated chatter was new Superintendent Jordana Harper, smiling as she spoke with Sam Kennedy, a junior who said he is excited for school and for the new classroom building that opens this term.
This first day of school, Harper is already fulfilling a promise she made to stay connected and be inside the schools, listening to teachers, principals and students as she leads the Greenfield school department.
“It’s important to me to be part of the learning and know where we can improve and be visible. It’s an opportunity to interact with staff and families,” Harper said.
Throughout Greenfield, schools planned creative and fun activities to welcome students back, from traveling musicians at Newton School to a comical game of dizzy bat among high school teachers.
Harper’s busy schedule was full as she spent the morning visiting the schools and later a school construction meeting.
At the high school, administrators had a variety of activities slated for the day to celebrate the opening of the classroom wing, part of a $66 million reconstruction. Events included a scavenger hunt designed to help students learn and navigate the new school and an all-school barbecue.
The students grouped themselves into small “teams” — a new concept this school year where small groups of students will meet with one teacher during advisory period. Many of the teams were based on students’ extracurricular activities. For instance, the Student Council members formed one group.
“It makes a larger community into a smaller one,” said biology teacher Cathy Wilkins. “We want every student to have an adult as a mentor to confide in.”
At 7:40 a.m., students began to head to the football field for an assembly where faculty solicited students to join clubs from French Club to Environmental Science.
“It’s a new school, new beginning. I’m excited for it,” said Associate Principal Thomas Gaffigan as he and Harper followed the students.
“We want to welcome you back today,” Principal Donna Woodcock called out. “Hopefully, you’ll celebrate the new building and do it respectfully. Our taxpayers and neighbors, some without kids in the school system, thought it’d be nice to have a new building for your education. We thank the town of Greenfield for that.
“You all have a new fresh start to being excellent students, the best that you can be. That’s our expectation.”
To her surprise, the faculty called for Harper to speak. The new superintendent quickly greeted the students and spontaneously challenged each class to a cheering competition — one that the seniors handily won.
“Whatever class you’re in, you have the tremendous honor of being in the new high school,” Harper said. “This is the best teachers and staff you can have. All summer they were trying to find the best people to join people that are already the best.”
She added, “I expect a lot from this class. This is my first class.”
The talk of the day was the opening of a 1957 time capsule from when the old school was first built.
The time capsule was a small bronze box from the 1957 school building committee.
Nestled tightly inside was a copy of the Nov. 9, 1957 Greenfield Recorder-Gazette detailing a missing plane lost in the Pacific and stories about football.
Also inside, a 15-page program of studies detailed course offerings from “English Expressions” to “History of Our Time,” a contrast to today’s 100-page course lists. The capsule also contained class lists and design plans of the building. The old high school newspaper, “The Exponent” was also included.
In a show of “sportsmanship” and humor, the teachers gathered in the middle of the football field and faced each other in game of dizzy bat — in which they place their foreheads on a baseball bat handle set on the ground and run in a circle. After that, the now dizzy teachers tried to race back to a starting line, a challenging feat as they tumbled this way and that across the field, giving students a good laugh.
At 9 a.m., Harper headed to her next destination, Newton School, where musicians from the community visited classrooms, playing the violin, mandolin or ukulele to show the students the importance of music.
Later, at the Academy of Early Learning, nervous parents brought their youngsters to the preschool’s open house. Preschool and kindergarten starts Thursday.
While some children were scared and shy, only looking up to take a colored smiley face sticker from their teacher, others jumped right in, playing with the various toys or climbing up onto a reading bunk.
At the school’s entrance, Harper knelt down to talk to Gabriel, a 3-year-old boy, who excitedly waved back.
“Today is the day I’ve been waiting for,” Harper said.
You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261 ext. 268 On Twitter, follow @RecorderKatMcK