First-day-of-school rituals play out for teachers, students and their families in Westerly

First-day-of-school rituals play out for teachers, students and their families in Westerly

WESTERLY — Excitement, some first-day jitters and lots of happy reunions were all part of the return to school for Westerly students Tuesday, a shortened day of classes because of the extreme heat.

School administrators made the announcement Monday evening to dismiss students an hour earlier than usual on Tuesday because of the heat.

Westerly High School upperclass students arrived at about 10:20 a.m., giving them just a couple of hours to settle in, meet with their advisers and attend their first classes.

Freshmen arrived at 7:20 for their orientation, which included getting their photos taken for their campus identification badges.

Seniors, including Erika Mayne and Jenna Murray, later led groups of freshmen on tours of the campus and their classrooms.

“It still hasn’t hit me yet that we’re seniors,” Murray said.

Mayne remembered her first day as a freshman.

“It was super overwhelming but it was easy to get used to, especially with the mentors I had,” she said.

Freshmen also attended an activities fair held in the school’s gymnasium. They moved from table to table getting information on 23 clubs and organizations at the high school, from creative writing, math and student council to science clubs and even a bowling group.

The Math Team quickly signed up several students, captain and senior Sarah Gray said. She and fellow captains Jasmine Li and Ryan Teixeira are used to the first-day routine.  

“All the upperclassmen come in at 10:20 and we get our schedules,” Gray said. “Today we go to our last two class periods. Then tomorrow we go to the other five, so it’s kind of like we have two first days.”

Special education teacher Aleta Okolicsanyi provided information about the Academic Decathlon team, which competes 10 times per year throughout the state. Its focus this year: the 1960s.

“I’m looking for interested students. If they love learning and discovery, this is the place to be,” she said.

The high school students arrived at the Ward building to see colorful chalk messages of greetings and encouragement that their teachers wrote on the sidewalks and walkways leading into the school. All of the faculty donned navy blue Bulldog Pride T-shirts for the first day.  

The chalk messages were quoted from books the teachers read over the summer.

“As an effort to welcome the students, but also remind them that reading books can also be inspiring,” English Department chairwoman Denise Oliveira said. Oliveira also emailed all incoming ninth-grade students to encourage them to read a book of their choice.

Westerly Middle School Principal Paula Fusco said the students were adjusting to a new schedule at the school.

“We had a great opening,” Fusco said. “Students were excited to be back.”

Administrators at State Street, Springbrook and Dunn’s Corners Elementary Schools reported no major issues and a smooth start to the reopening of school Tuesday.

State Street kindergarteners and their parents will attend orientations Wednesday and Thursday before the youngsters start their first full day on Friday.

Dunn’s Corners announced Monday that students would temporarily eat lunch in either their classrooms or outdoors while the school waits for the results of air quality tests for the cafeteria, which was thoroughly cleaned last weekend.

The move was made in an abundance of caution because of the recent extreme humidity and because the building had been unused for much of the summer, administrators said. The test results were set to arrive in a day or two.


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