CCISD students head back to school

By BRITTANY FHOLER 
Cove Leader-Press 

The sound of tambourines and high-fives from teachers and soldiers from the 2nd Battalion 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division welcomed students back to school Tuesday morning at Hettie Halstead Elementary. 
The school, located on N. Main Street, has an enrollment of approximately 350 students. There is one bus that buses in students from the Creekside Hills subdivision on N. F.M. 116, but the majority of the students walk to school or are dropped off by parents, according to Principal Billie Diaz. 
As they arrived with their parents and siblings, students received high-fives and words of encouragement from Halstead’s Adopted Unit, the 2nd Battalion 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, as they walked up the front sidewalk and in the front doors. 
Students were then escorted to their classrooms or to the cafeteria for the district’s universal breakfast program by their mom or dad before class started. 
In Christina Newberry’s third grade class, students sat in a circle on the rug and asked questions and shared what they were excited about. One student expressed their nerves over the STAAR test, but Newberry quickly assured them that they had nothing to worry about and that she would teach them everything they needed to know. 
Fifth-grade math teacher Swantje Drayton had an empty classroom right after school started but was very excited for the new school year. She was one of the Education Foundation grant recipients last year and won a grant to pay for Breakout Edu, an online technology-based platform that is based on escape rooms and offers programs for students to solve problems and earn a code to unlock and move forward. At the end of the program, if the students “break out”, they will earn a reward for their whole class, Drayton said.
Though she wasn’t able to use the program last year, she did activate her subscription on the first of August and plans to implement it this year, she said. 
This marks her fifth year teaching, all of which have been at Halstead Elementary. She moved from teaching third grade last year to fifth grade this year. Drayton said she was excited to wake up and get to school to see her students.
Normally, she is really nervous, but she felt like this year was the first year where she had already developed a relationship with the students because she taught them in third grade, she said. 
The first days of school were spent getting to know each other and the rules and procedures that the students will have to follow.  
“I’m excited one to get to know 5th grade because I was a 3rd grade teacher last year, so it’s kind of like a learning experience for me and for the students at the same time, which I’m super excited about because I feel like we learn together, and when we learn together, we’re building a stronger relationship and community inside of the classroom,” Drayton said. 
Principal Billie Diaz, who was the Assistant Principal last year, wore Bulldawg blue to start the new year off right. The teachers of Halstead wore matching shirts, ordered by Stephanie Kinney from Sissy’s Southern Charms, located in the Cove Terrace Shopping Center, to show their Halstead pride. 
Diaz was outside Tuesday morning, helping welcome each student and parent to school. Diaz said her favorite part about the first day of school was seeing the faces of the kids and how excited they get.  
“They’re all smiling and hugging you and like, ‘Did you have a good summer?’ A lot of them are like, ‘Yes,’ but the ones that say no, I’m like why? [They say], ‘Because we missed you and we wanted to be at school.’” Diaz said. “So that’s always exciting, just knowing that they love being here. That’s just the best part of the day, seeing their smiles.”
Diaz said that everybody was smiling Tuesday morning and that she didn’t see anyone crying. 
“They want to be here,” Diaz said. “I’ve been back at work for a month, but the first day with kids is just amazing. There’s nothing like it.”
Fourth-grader Kenya Cummings, 9, said she was feeling happy on the first day of school. She said she was most looking forward to passing her STAAR test and that her favorite class subject was math. She added she was most looking forward to doing well on the work she was assigned Tuesday. 
Fifth-grader Kaya McKenzie, 10, started her day with P.E. where she found out about the fifth-grade track meet to be held in May. She said she was really looking forward to running at the track meet. 
Her favorite class is science because of the different experiments that her class will get to do, she said. 
McKenzie said she didn’t have any first day jitters and was super excited to start. 
“I’m feeling good. It’s been really good,” McKenzie said. “Everybody is nice. And the new coach is really nice.”
McKenzie has been a student at Halstead since third grade. 
“It seems like 5th grade is going to be really fun,” she said. 
McKenzie said her goals for the year were to be able to pass and to do her work before she does anything else. 

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