(Originally published in the Telegraph on 8/12/08)
With summer vacations coming to a close, students and teachers in the River Bend will have to drop their fishing poles and pick up their textbooks.
The majority of area schools begin class next week, but administrators from public schools in Bethalto and Granite City are welcoming students for the first day of the 2008-2009 academic year this morning, and Metro-East Lutheran High School in Edwardsville will open its doors Thursday.
In a year when many local districts enacted changes to improve schools, Bethalto focused on updating teaching methods to suit the needs of today's children.
"We're looking to introduce some 21st-century ideas into our school curriculum," Bethalto School District Superintendent Sandra Wilson said. "We're trying to utilize and realize how more technologically advanced our kids are now, because they're texting, and they feel that e-mail is ‘old hat.' They're digital learners. They're barraged with multimedia."
The district also hopes to increase safety by installing an electronic system of automatic locks, accessible to card-holding teachers, coaches and administrators.
"We have so many entrances and doors, and when all the teachers had keys, you were never sure that doors were getting locked behind them," Wilson said.
Leaving doors unlocked created a potential security risk, which the new system can reduce, Wilson said.
"Every time there's an incident in any state where there's a school shooting, violence in the schools or some kind of a problem on campus, it makes schools turn around and look at their crisis plans," Wilson said. "We want parents to be able to feel that when their kids come to our school, no harm will come to them."
In the process of renovating elementary schools, Alton School District moved teachers' classroom supplies from Gilson Brown Elementary and Eunice Smith Elementary to other buildings.
"For a year, they're going to be holding classes in different locations," Alton School District Superintendent David Elson said. "We've had to redo our bus routes and whatnot. Basically, during this year, we're going to gut (Gilson Brown and Eunice Smith) and give them new roofs, lights and ceilings, and get rid of the asbestos."
Students from Gilson Brown will attend Horace Mann Elementary on Edwards Street, and students from Eunice Smith will attend Mark Twain Elementary on Milton Road. Both Horace Mann and Mark Twain went unused for a long period of time prior to this fall.
"(Horace Mann and Mark Twain) had been basically closed for the last couple of years, so we had to make sure that we had any of the junk we had there all out," Elson said. "We painted, waxed the floors and put in a conduit, so we could put air conditioning in each of the classrooms. In (Horace Mann), we had to change to three-phase wiring, which was an additional complication. We've also moved all of our computers over there."
Alton Middle School's Annex Building also is undergoing substantial repairs.
"If you were to go by there (on Tuesday), you'd see them installing new windows," Elson said. "Also inside that building, we're going to have new bathrooms, new ceilings and new lights, and we've gotten rid of a lot of asbestos."
Elson commended the teachers of Gilson Brown and Eunice Smith for their efforts to pack and unpack their classrooms - only to repack and unpack again next summer - during the temporary relocation.
"You go into many of those classes and, by now, they're pretty well set up," he said. "It's just amazing the dedication they have to the students they're going to be teaching."
FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL
Alton: Aug. 20
Bethalto: Aug. 13
Brussels: Aug. 20
Bunker Hill: Aug. 19
Calhoun County: Aug. 20
Carlinville: Aug 19
Carrollton: Aug 21
East Alton: Aug 19
East Alton-Wood River: Aug. 20
Edwardsville: Aug. 19
Gillespie: Aug. 19
Girard: Aug. 18
Granite City: Aug. 13
Greenfield: Aug. 18
Jersey County: Aug. 20
Mount Olive: Aug. 19
North Greene: Aug. 21
Northwestern: Aug. 22
Roxana: Aug. 25
Southwestern: Aug. 19
Staunton: Aug. 19
Triad: Sept. 2
Wood River-Hartford: Aug. 19
Virden: Aug. 18
Marquette Catholic High School: Aug. 25
Metro-East Lutheran High School: Aug. 14
Westminster Christian Academy: Aug. 20
Zion Lutheran, Litchfield: Aug. 18