For the first time in months, Riverbend Elementary School was bustling with activity during the noon hour on Wednesday.
Kids squirmed in their desks eagerly awaiting lunchtime. Some talked about their summers while devouring sack lunches. And others sprinted toward the playground equipment when allowed outside for recess.
Principal Carmen Katasse was ready for the new school year, which began districtwide on Wednesday.
"Like every new year, schools always have a beginning and an end and you can always start fresh. So I'm excited about that," Katasse said.
Katasse said Riverbend has some exciting new program additions. The school is starting "Professional Learning Communities" that give teachers time to evaluate student achievement through the data. It also is partnering with Tlingit-Haida Central Council for a Head Start program, and Big Brothers Big Sisters has set up an office in the building to assist the students participating in that program.
Katasse said the school is integrating students with disabilities in standard preschool classes.
Some Riverbend students were excited about the beginning of the new school year while others were reluctant to let go of their summer breaks.
Fifth-graders Lucas Tentel and Taylee Escalance said they were excited about the new school year, particularly for the art and math classes. Fifth-grader Nicole Nelson said she is excited to be back in school to see her friends more often.
Christopher Mack said he found it a little tough getting out of bed Wednesday morning. The fifth-grader said he is looking forward to the school year, "but I'm a little sad that summer's over."
Dillon Tomaro, another fifth-grader, was specific about his disappointment with the end of summer.
"My dad got a Berners (Bay) permit to go hunt a moose up there," he said. "Only like seven get handed out a year and I want to go with him but I can't because of school."
He said this school year he looks forward to recess and "getting done" so he can do more hunting and fishing.
Students and teachers weren't the only people at school on Wednesday. A number of volunteer parents spent the day helping students and fellow parents get acquainted with the school.
Sean O'Brien, a volunteer parent who has a first- and third-grader attending Riverbend, spent Wednesday morning welcoming students and parents at a refreshment table located by the school's entrance.
"Basically, I just pitch in and help out wherever, especially the first day where it's pretty overwhelming," he said. "There's just a lot going on. The staff really appreciates the extra help, and I really enjoy it. Especially with my kids here."
Katasse said she hopes to see more parents volunteer throughout the school year.
"We need parents to partner with the school," she said. "We welcome parents any time to come into the classrooms and to ask us questions and to see how they can help and be involved."
Katasse said the volunteers are valuable to students making the transition into the new school year.
She said getting ready for the beginning of school is an "organized chaos."
"It's always hectic, but we get through it," said special education teacher Scott May.
May, the Juneau-Douglas High School track and field head coach, was originally hired to be a full-time physical education teacher at Riverbend this year. He agreed to be a special education instructor again when the Juneau School District had difficulty filling the position.
"Making sure that all the needs of the students are met has been the biggest preparation challenge for me personally, and always is," said May. "Every kid has a different program and getting to know the kids in those programs, and their families, is what it's all about."
Eric Morrison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.