Motorists on Mendenhall Loop Road couldn't forget that Wednesday morning was the start of a new school year. Karen Lawfer, dressed in a traffic light costume, was there to remind them.
Lawfer, other members of the Juneau Safe Kids Coalition, and Perry and Linda Shipman, who were costumed as a dog and a cat, stood at intersections near Floyd Dryden Middle School and Glacier Valley Elementary School in the morning rush, waving signs to remind drivers to slow down.
"So I think we caught people's attention," a satisfied Lawfer said in the lobby at Glacier Valley afterward, her costume blinking.
Meanwhile, dressed as humans, teachers at Glacier Valley were trying to make children feel safe as well. As children and parents entered the school, teachers such as Sherrie Chrysler called out a welcome, sometimes hugging a student.
"Good morning!" she cried to one girl. "You got tall. They must be feeding you!"
Teachers and students both feel nervous the first day of school. Some children entered the building smiling, others were round-eyed and shy.
"I sort of get nervous because I don't know some of the kids in my class," said third-grader Gabriella Hill.
But her brother, fifth-grader Eric Hill, took the glass-is-half-full approach.
"The first day of school is pretty fun because you get to go back and see all your friends," he said.
Second-grade teacher Melissa Lamb, in her second year of teaching, and third-grade teacher Geri McLeod, in her 17th year, admitted to nerves.
"It's all about meeting new people, all these personalities you're going to be with all year," said Lamb, who added she will read to the kids from a book called "First Day Jitters."
Before classes started, in the calm before the storm, Norah Jones was playing on the CD player and Lamb was writing the day's schedule on the whiteboard.
"It's just a lot about teaching the kids the routines the first day of school and getting to know each other," she said. "It's about creating strong relationships with the kids and safety in the classroom. Then learning can happen."
McLeod said she was nervous even with her years of experience.
"Do you know why? Because it's an unknown. You don't know the babies. You want to meet them where they are," she said.
As children filed into Lamb's classroom at 8 o'clock, she bent over, introduced herself and told them to peel off a sticky name tag from a sheet and sit down wherever they wanted. Boys sat with boys, and girls sat with girls.
They busied themselves coloring another, larger name tag on a piece of paper as parents, already forgotten, said goodbye.
A stuffed pink monkey sat in a white rocking chair. The alphabet in script formed a frieze along one wall above a whiteboard, as alphabets have for decades.
When Lamb wanted the children's attention, she sang out "aaay," and the kids responded with "ohhh." She told them in advance what she wanted them to do in a few minutes. Then they knew what to expect.
At 8:20 the children sat in the gathering place, a corner of the classroom, and Lamb showed them a photo of herself as a second-grader with her teachers. She asked them to talk about what they noticed in the picture, such as her smiling face, her arms around the teachers' shoulders.
"I just wanted to let you know I was a second-grader too, and I loved second grade," Lamb said.
Lamb gave them 10 seconds to reseat themselves in a circle so they could introduce themselves and say their favorite food.
"... nine, nine and a half, nine and three-quarters, 10," Lamb said. "Wow, that was impressive."
A smiling girl named Ashleigh patted Lamb on the shoulder.
McLeod, in her classroom next door, struck a Native drum to get the children's attention. They formed a "community circle" on the floor, and McLeod and the children talked about what a community is and what rules the classroom should have.
"It's a place to learn, grow and have fun together," McLeod said.
Students at Yaakoosge Daakahidi, the alternative high school, also spent part of Wednesday developing the school's code of ethics, "what we can live with and hold others accountable for," said Principal Laury Scandling.
The two-day sessions, held at nearby Resurrection Lutheran Church, help "young people understand they are in charge of who they are and some ethics transcend everything and they can be a whole person," she said.
The students and staff heard from David and Anna Katzeek, Natives who have been active in education, about their values. The students did a physical exercise, called "knots," in which they solved the problem of how to get their intertwined arms and legs unlocked.
And as small groups they brainstormed about ethics and values, coming up with their top five choices. In Scandling's group, the top values were love, respect, honesty, generosity and trust.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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