CRANBERRY TWP — A light rain couldn't dampen the smiles of students Aug. 27 as they arrived at Haine Elementary and Middle schools.
Busloads of students and more dropped off by their families descended on the building beginning around 8:30 a.m. in anticipation of the first day of classes in the Seneca Valley School District. Many posed for photos with parents, while others excitedly greeted friends they haven't seen since the end of the last school year.
It was a day of excitement, and one that takes months of planning in the lead-up to students' arrival, according to elementary Principal Kristen White and middle school Principal Cassandra Doggrell.
“The culture here at Haine is 'all hands on deck' throughout the first few weeks of school,” Doggrell said.
That includes a team of teachers, staff and volunteers on hand that morning to direct traffic, greet parents and help students find their way to their classrooms.
White said the school takes extra steps over the summer to ensure the first day of classes isn't the first time students and parents are interacting with school staff.
She said the school holds a “find your classroom” day in the weeks leading up to the first day, and teachers send out information two weeks prior.
On Aug. 26, kindergarten students and their parents had a chance to meet one another for the first time.
“We want to make them feel comfortable and have that parent interaction for the first time,” White said.
Doggrell said the strong, visible presence of staff and volunteers aims to make both students and parents feel comfortable, and to show that safety is everyone's top priority. That concept was further on display through the presence of Jeffrey James, the district's supervisor of safety and security.
Now beginning his second year with the district, he spent the morning greeting students at Haine and making sure things flowed smoothly. He said while the district had a successful security program before his arrival, much has been done to make schools even safer.
“We feel pretty confident that when parents drop their kids off, they're dropping them off at a safe place,” he said, citing changes and training held over the summer.
That includes 81 new surveillance cameras at district schools as well as license-plate-reading cameras at the senior high campus paid for via a grant. It also includes a reconfiguration of security measures at the high school to cover gaps left by ongoing construction work.
James said the district also held two hazard training events with police, fire and EMS agencies that involved two mock mass-casualty scenarios. He said those training events go a long way in making sure everyone is on the same page in responding to potential issues.
“I think training is extremely important,” he said. “It doesn't have to be a big, dynamic event.”
Superintendent Tracy Vitale spent the day visiting schools in the district, and said the start of classes is her “favorite time of the year.”
“The enthusiasm and energy I saw in the students and staff at all of our buildings, and across multiple grade levels, was palpable,” she said. “I'm looking forward to a wonderful and productive school year.”