Classrooms spring to life as students return to Shen

An elementary school classroom at Orenda.

KASSIE PARISI/GAZETTE REPORTERAn elementary school classroom at Orenda. KASSIE PARISI/GAZETTE REPORTER

By Kassie Parisi

Gazette Reporter

CLIFTON PARK — Hallways in the Shenendehowa Central School District — vacant for months — sprang to life the morning of Sept. 6 with the start of a new school year.

As the school’s official start time of 8:05 a.m. approached, teachers at Orenda Elementary, one of eight elementary schools in the district, traveled back and forth from their classrooms to the main office to pick up bus, lunch and recess schedules for their classrooms. Then, as students began to stream from the school buses parked outside, teachers and staff gathered in the front foyer to greet both returning and new students.

As calls of “welcome back!” rang throughout the hallways — adorned with back-to-school art and welcome signs — the first waves of Orenda students wandered to find their classrooms, some of them taken by the hand of teachers and hall monitors.

Daniel Lifschitz, a fifth-grader, was excited to start his final year in elementary school. Lifschitz came to Shen in third grade from New Jersey and said starting at a new school was difficult at first. But now he’s looking forward to spending time with his new teacher.

Lifschitz just got back from a summer of traveling, including a visit to Montreal to attend the Montreal International Jazz Festival, he said.

Joseph Tarbox, a fourth-grader who was waiting to enter the school with Lifschitz, was equally excited to start the year. He said he too enjoyed his summer, but he was ready to get into his classroom.

“I’m really excited for my new teacher,” he said.

Shen is the largest school district in the Capital Region, and Orenda alone has approximately 549 students, according to 2017-18 enrollment data. It is the second-most populated elementary school in the district.

There are a total of 189 class sections of kindergarten through fifth grade at Shen. The district also has two middle schools and a high school that is divided into two buildings, with one holding grade nine, and the other holding grades 10 through 12. Last year, 717 students graduated from the district.

Due to the large number of students enrolled, the district closely monitors its elementary school population. While the average enrollment in the elementary schools is around 504, some schools, such as Tesago and Arongen, are outliers.

Arongen had 626 students enrolled in August, while Tesago had 360. Since Tesago has the lowest enrollment, the district repurposed a classroom in the building to house its new Mobility Opportunities Via Education (MOVE) program for students who lack independent mobility.

But on Wednesday morning, Orenda principal Michael Smith stood outside in the rain as students filed into school. His goal was to make sure as many of his students as possible started the year with a high-five from him.

For Smith, seeing the smiling faces of new students, old students and teachers was the most exciting part of the day — and the best way to start the new year.

“There’s nothing better than that,” he said.