Music streams from the music room.
In the gym, a class of youngsters plays on scooters under the watchful eye of the physical education teacher.
A class fills the computer lab, while another sits reading in the library.
At first glance, the scene is to be expected during the first week of school. But at Nikiski North Star Elementary School, it's all a little new.
Principal Lori Manion, who headed North Star Elementary School last year, returns this year as the principal of Nikiski North Star Elementary School.
The new school received its name in an informal election by Nikiski community members. The school mascot The Shooting Stars also was selected in this manner.
The new school boasts a full-time music teacher, PE teacher and nurse, as well as library staffing. Such specialists were down to limited hours at both Nikiski and North Star sites last year due to low enrollment.
Former home-schooler Cydney Spurgeon, left, and Heather Kaser, who went to North Star last year, build their new friendship during recess. The girls said the consolidation of Nikiski and North Star elementary schools has led to many new friendships among students.
Photo by Jenni Dillon
The Nikiski North Star Elementary School building can house up to 500 students. The current student enrollment (as of Monday) was 408, with a few straggling students still signing up. Enrollment still is expected to decrease in coming years, though.
The school, housed in what used to be North Star Elementary School on Holt-Lamplight Road in Nikiski, reopened last week as the consolidation of North Star and Nikiski elementary schools.
The consolidation, more than a year in the works, caused some concerns for portions of the North Peninsula community prior to this fall, but Principal Lori Manion said Monday that the joining of the two school communities is proving a boon for everyone involved.
Last year, the separate elementary schools each built to house about 500 students had a combined enrollment of about 400 students, meaning resources were tight. This fall, with registration still coming in, the combined school has a little more than 400 students in one place.
A new sign announces the opening of Nikiski North Star Elementary School, the combination of Nikiski and North Star schools, which were consolidated into a single site at the old North Start building this fall.
Photo by Jenni Dillon
Manion said that means Nikiski North Star is staffing a full-time PE teacher, music teacher and nurse.
"There are complete benefits for parents sending their kids to school," Manion said.
She said she felt there used to be contention about which school was the "have" and which was the "have-not." Now, she said, "This is the 'have' school. We've got a lot of computers, solid teachers and really good instruction.
"The community of Nikiski is benefiting."
In addition to resources to provide students with "specials" (specifically, music, PE and library teachers who are allotted to schools based on student population), Nikiski North Star also benefits from a veteran staff that now has the opportunity to collaborate and work as a team, Manion said.
"I've got a school full of veteran teachers," she said. "But you can always learn new tricks and add to your tool box."
With two to three teachers at each grade level, this year teachers are able to do just that, discussing new and proven ways to deliver education to young people.
In particular, teachers at the new school are focusing on improving reading and math computation, which test scores said were a little low at both schools last year. However, Manion noted, both schools made adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act in 2003-04, and as a new combined site, the school will start from scratch this year under the act.
The school also is kicking off the Character Counts program, which is in use at a handful of other Kenai Peninsula Borough School District schools, such as Kenai Middle School. The national program focuses on six pillars of character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. Manion said the school is working on introducing and emphasizing these pillars for both students and the community as a whole.
One way of doing that will be with an Artists in Schools grant, provided by the Alaska State Council on the Arts in cooperation with the Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts. Longtime Nikiski resident and artist Dottie Sanders will spend time in the school working with students on art projects that highlight the pillars of Character Counts.
Overall, Manion said she's excited to be heading up the new school, both as an administrator and as a community member.
"This is my home," said the former North Star Elementary School principal. "I've got small children who will be coming here in the next year. All our community is benefiting from the combination of the two schools."
Students at the school agreed, as the enjoyed new playground equipment and new friends Monday afternoon.
"I kind of like it; and I kind of like my other school," said fifth-grader Max Gillies, who attended Nikiski Elementary last year.
"I was used to my old school, but I like this because I'm making new friends and it's a new experience, and I usually enjoy new experiences.
"I'm looking forward (to the rest of the year) because kids have told me there's going to be a lot of fun activities."
Other students agreed.
Fifth-grader Victor Hogge said the new school is "really cool."
"My girlfriend is here and everything, and all my friends are here," he said.
Victor also attended Nikiski Elementary School last year but was climbing on the monkey bars with a group of kids from both sites.
"Everybody mostly hangs out with everyone," said Heather Kaser, a fifth-grader who was at North Star Elementary last year. She was wandering through the new playground equipment with Cydney Spurgeon, a fifth-grader who was home-schooled last year.
"People are making new friends," Heather said.
"Like you," agreed Cydney. "You're my new friend."
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