Excitement and Jitters on the First Day of School

September 9, 2013 9:04 pm Last Updated: September 16, 2013 3:08 pm

NEW YORK—On the first day of school at the Icahn Charter School 7, Mrs. Brodbar pointed to the words “First Day Jitters” on the whiteboard and asked the children how they felt.

“Tired,” replied one student. “Hungry,” said another. “Happy,” said a third as Brodbar wrote down the words on the board.

“Really, really happy,” the child added.

Brodbar added three exclamation marks after “happy.”

As the school year begins students aren’t the only ones feeling the jitters.

Parents, teachers, and administrators are looking forward to many changes this year, including the full adoption of a new and challenging Common Core Curriculum, the rollout of teacher evaluations, as well as the implementation of mandatory kindergarten citywide.

But for all the worries, the city’s school system has much to boast about. Some 1.1 million students are returning to more schools this year than ever in the city’s history. There are 76 new schools opening on the first day of school alone. New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott toured the five boroughs on Sept. 9 to showcase the Department of Education’s proudest new places of learning.

In Washington Heights hundreds of students, dressed in uniforms, filled the chairs lined in the gymnasium of the Gregorio Luperon High School for Science and Mathematics. The school started out in a converted factory and eventually became a high school. Mayor Michael Bloomberg broke ground on the new school building in 2007 and returned again this year for his last public school visit.

“Achieving success begins with expected success,” Bloomberg told the students. “Our core philosophy has always been, when it comes to education, if we raise our expectations, the student will meet them.”

Bloomberg may have been alluding to the Common Core State Standards, which require more critical thinking on behalf of students. The city’s third- through eighth-graders recently received unusually low scores on the new Common Core tests. Bloomberg has emphasized that the results represent a new beginning and higher expectations.

The mayor added that he was not a straight-A student himself and that his teachers did a lot to inspire him. He encouraged the students to work hard and not to give up when facing difficulties.

When the officials finished their speeches, students went to their first classes this year, chatting, laughing, and hugging old friends.

“It’s been really good,” said Joshua Nunez, a 10th-grader on his first year in the United States and at Gregorio Luperon High School. “The teachers are really good.”

Shortly after, Walcott arrived at the Icahn Charter School 7 and sat down with first-graders, who were learning about the weather and the calendar. The chancellor pointed out that he was happy to see the new Common Core aligned books at the school. Some 1.5 million books were delivered to schools throughout the summer.

“We probably have the largest book distribution in the history of the Department of Education,” Walcott said, adding that more than 99 percent of schools received the new materials.

Next on the chancellor’s tour was the Academy for Careers in Television and Film (ACTvF) that just moved to a brand new building next to the newly opened Hunters Point Park in Long Island City in Queens. The school still smelled of fresh paint and its bright staircases were filled with sunlight beaming through floor-to-ceiling windows.

The school’s film production class asked Walcott to play a role in a film exercise. He declined several times, but obliged after they insisted. The class set up tracks for the camera on the expansive open-air terrace with views of the Manhattan skyline. As Walcott walked, Michelle Andrade, 17, rode the camera cart keeping him in focus.

“I feel really excited especially since it’s a new building,” Andrade, who wants to become a camera operator, said.

“We really love it. It really has upped our program a whole notch,” said Alan Metzger, director of the production department at ACTvF. “We’re able to do this kind of stuff. The facilities are just great.”

Over in Staten Island, Walcott toured P.S. 48 Williams C. Wilcox and surveyed a gymnatorium, a new kind of school gymnasium that can be converted into an auditorium.

Walcott concluded his tour at the Mary White Ovington School in Brooklyn. The school just moved into a newly constructed building. It features a massive stained glass window and a clock tower—two architectural elements from a church that stood on its site for more than 100 years.

Mary White Ovington is also home to the city’s first bilingual Arabic program. There, 20 kindergarteners, including 10 who do not speak Arabic, will have an environment conducive to language learning. The school is also home to the first year of providing a software engineering program where sixth-graders will learn computer and programming basics.

Walcott paused beneath the stained glass remnant of the old church on the second floor of the school and praised the principals who worked overtime to make the first day of school possible. He also praised the staff that isn’t usually on the forefront: maintenance and service workers.

This is the last back-to-school tour for Walcott, who will be replaced when the incoming mayor appoints a new chancellor. He popped into more classrooms than he was scheduled for, shook hands with teachers, and wished students a great school year even though he won’t be in office by the time it’s over.

But for the students, regardless of the administration, the first day is just the beginning.

“I’m a little nervous because it’s a new building and you have to jump from class to class,” said Ariana Penna, 11, a sixth-grader at the newly built Hunters Point Community Middle School in Queens. “It’s really big. It’s like a high school. It’s amazing.”