Nearly 1,000 kids passed through the middle school halls in two separate shifts here Tuesday, marking the beginning of the school year but the end of the traditional school schedule.
At least for now.
Double-shifting at Post Falls Middle School got off to a smooth start Tuesday, despite 500 students exiting the school as 500 others entered during the midday shift change.
“We are going to offer a good program, but there are going to be some inconveniences with the schedules,” Post Falls Superintendent Richard Harris said Tuesday. “We’ll have to be creative.”
Eighth-graders and half of the district’s sixth-graders began the school day at 7 a.m. and ended it at 12:18. Seventh-graders and the other half of the sixth-graders began at 12:30 and were released at 5:48.
Classes are slightly shorter and there’s just one 15-minute break per shift for students to socialize, snack and go to their lockers.
The new plan takes the sixth-graders out of the elementary schools, freeing up 11 classrooms in the rapidly growing district in need of more space. Three bond elections have come up just short of the two-thirds supermajority needed in Idaho to build a new school. Another bond election is being considered for next spring.
In the meantime, some double-shifting advantages were clear Tuesday, teachers noted, including quieter, calmer hallways that students moved through with improved ease. More difficult will be coordinating athletic and extracurricular activities, which may have to be scaled back because of the lack of facilities.
“We just have too many students for what we’ve got here,” said eighth grade science teacher Curt Kotter.
Teachers also face inconveniences, like sharing classrooms. When the early shift is released, teachers have 15 minutes to put away equipment and supplies and clear out before the second shift begins. With colleagues on varying schedules, the internal school climate is bound to change as well, Kotter added. Some co-workers may not even see one another on a daily basis.
“You don’t have that lunchtime together anymore,” Kotter said. “The school dynamics are definitely going to change.”
Cafeteria workers are preparing sack lunches twice daily. School bus drivers like Tamara Dolan have more shifts. She drives from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m., 11 to 1 p.m. and 5:30 to 7 p.m. Meanwhile, she has a kindergarten-age child and a third-grader who arrive home at 3:30. her sixth-grade child doesn’t come home until 5:30.
“Parents are upset,” Dolan said. “And it’s supposed to go on for four more years.”
Students seemed the least disrupted. Some eighth graders were even enamored with the new plan, which translates to more hang-out time in the afternoon.
“I like it better than last year because you have more time after school,” said Shawna Foster, 13. “The only bad thing about it is getting up so early.”
Debbie Brown’s eighth grader awoke at 5:15 a.m. Tuesday morning to catch a 6:18 bus for the early shift. Her sixth grader, however, won’t be attending public schools this fall. Brown said she and her husband are sending their youngest daughter to Falls Christian Academy instead of the middle school.
“Because of the overcrowding and that they didn’t have a gifted and talented program, we decided she would be better off in a private school,” Brown said. “We are really a split family now. I wish they could find a different solution.”
The Browns are not alone. There are 10 more junior high-age students in Falls Christian Academy’s K-12 enrollment of about 400 this year, according to registrar Marta Walker.
“We’ve had several sixth graders who have registered here as a direct result of the change. A lot of parents are concerned about their sixth graders going into a junior high setting.”
School administrators have tried to alleviate that fear by locating sixth graders in a separate wing of the school and keeping them contained in the classrooms during breaks. Sixth and seventh grade students arriving at 12:20 were quickly shepherded to separate parts of the building. Like with any first day of school, a few lost stragglers asked the way to the lockers, while others questioned the lack of recess.
“With all students entering a new setting, there’s a little bit of anxiety there,” Harris said. “But kids adjust quickly and easily. Our staff is taking some extra care to get them in the right place at the right time.”
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