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First Day of the 2023-2024 School Year

Tuesday marked State High teacher Jeff Kissell’s 34th first day of school as an educator, and the energy of a new year getting underway felt as fresh as it did on his first.


“At some point, you start to savor everything,” he said, moments after clusters of seniors shared laughs, fist bumps and animated chatter as they waited to fill the school auditorium for their traditional first-day class meeting. 


“When you come back to school, you appreciate things that you never used to appreciate, because you know there are fewer years in front you than behind you. So the biggest thing for me is the absolute joy of seeing the excitement of all the kids, and kind of feeling special because of that. It gets better each time.”


Across the State College Area School District, 6,727 students revived schools from the summer doldrums, the kindergarteners embarking on their educational journeys and the rest returning to continue theirs.


At Ferguson Township Elementary, the interior was just as sunny as outside. Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Danielle Yoder joined Principal Shelly Buckholtz, faculty and staff in welcoming students, some barely larger than their backpacks. Cheerful greetings rang out: “Welcome back!” “Good to see those smiles!” “So glad you’re back!” “Do you know where you’re going?”


“Good morning!” Buckholtz said, hugging a student. “It’s the first day, my favorite day of the year.”


Before visiting her next school, Yoder took photos, popped into classes and watched kindergartners arrive while holding their parents’ hands. Each moment made her beam.


“It’s awesome,” she said. “Everybody’s happy.”


One Ferguson Township teacher was so glad to see third-grader Sam Watson again, she embraced him in the hallway, saying “Sam-I-Am!” He didn’t see her coming, but looking ahead earlier, he singled out gym class as something he can’t wait to do.


“Because there’s a lot of fun stuff you do in gym,” he said.


Nearby, fifth-grader Charlotte Tejeda said she was immediately looking forward to meeting her new teacher, Sean Hanna, and classmates. After that, she said, her goal is to improve in reading with learning support teacher Aimee Haines — who just happened to be standing a few feet away and offered her own objectives for the year.


“I think I’m most looking forward to connecting with students and their families, and learning our new reading curriculum and implementing that,” Haines said.


For school psychologist Lauren Lucas, one of the hallway greeters, Tuesday also was a first day in the district. As a newcomer, she said she’s excited to meet her new students. “Meeting students is my favorite part of the year,” she said.


At Corl Street Elementary, fifth-graders Juoh Lee and Wendy Williams took a break from scrambling around gym class to share their goals.


“Making new friends and making a great fifth-grade year,” Lee said.


“I’m excited to meet new people and make new friends,” Williams said. “I want to try to learn new things and get better at things I did before.”


State High students Samyah Carroll and Ellie Harper had time to reflect on the year ahead while spending part of their morning in line at the computer depot to adjust their Chromebooks.


“This is my first time here in this district,” said Caroll, a junior. “So I’d like to make new friends and get into socializing, get interested in the clubs and see what interests I might like.”


“I’m looking forward to my Latin class,” said Harper, a senior. “Because I’ve been taking Latin for a few years, and I’ve always had great teachers and people in my class. It’s always been really fun.”


At the other end of the spectrum, back at Ferguson Township, kindergarten teacher Katrina Shoemaker started her students’ very first day in school with a story, “All Are Welcome” by Alexandra Penfold. As parents observed and little ears listened intently, Shoemaker read the opening lines, a fitting start to a year’s adventure and beyond.


“Pencils sharpened in their case.


“Bells are ringing, let’s make haste.


School’s beginning, dreams to chase.


All are welcome here.”


By Chris Rosenblum

Video by Nabil K. Mark

Published Aug. 22, 2023