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The 2021-2022 School Year Begins!

As school resumed Tuesday from summer break, Radio Park Elementary School Principal Alex Raup experienced his own first day.


Raup welcomed students back as Radio Park’s new leader, starting out the 2021-2022 year at his former elementary school. Clipboard in hand, he roamed the school’s front plaza dispensing sunny greetings at every turn while buses pulled up and drop-off parents squeezed in last-minute photos and farewell hugs.


“Good morning!” he said to a boy just slightly bigger than his backpack. “How are we doing? Ready to rock and roll? You’re going to do great!”


Around him on the sidewalk were spirited messages and drawings, including a giant Pokémon, all etched in colorful chalk by the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization the night before. Raup and teachers by the front door were equally encouraging.


“It was fun,” Raup said. “I just got to meet some of the students with the new student orientation and kindergarten camp, but to see the whole school filled up, it’s awesome. There’s no feeling like the first-day-of-school feeling.”


Similar scenes unfolded across the State College Area School District as nearly 7,000 students at 11 schools kicked off the year with smiles and high expectations.


"It was awesome seeing all of the students who had been remote or virtual last year reunited with their friends at school," Mount Nittany Elementary Principal Mark Feldman said. "It was a homecoming of sorts.”


At Gray’s Woods Elementary School, Principal Kris Dewitt said the best moment of the day for her was when a student approached her in a classroom and exclaimed: “I’m new here, and this school is the best!”


Not only students found themselves having to adjust; some administrators besides Raup did as well. Curtis Johnson and Danielle Yoder left principal positions to become the assistant superintendents of secondary and elementary education, respectively. Laura Tobias took over as State High’s principal, and Jessica Quinter joined the district to be Park Forest Elementary School’s principal. The search for Yoder’s replacement at Easterly Parkway Elementary School continues.


“Last Friday, we hosted an open house for families who are new to Park Forest Elementary," Quinter said. "This was a wonderful experience for me since, as a principal, I love to meet students, and learn their names. I even told one of the new students that I would see her on ‘our’ first day of school. I saw her at arrival this morning and think it helped both of us to see a friendly face.” 


With the new leadership in place, SCASD started the year with a different instructional approach, returning to daily in-person learning districtwide after a year of hybrid and synchronous remote learning. Over the summer, most families chose in-person learning over the alternative option, the online Virtual Academy.


Although improved local COVID-19 conditions and high student, staff and community vaccination rates prompted the educational model revision, students and staff still walked into classrooms following a carefully crafted health and safety plan. This year’s plan requires masks for everyone while indoors, as well as three to six feet of physical distancing. To help maintain the physical distancing requirement at lunch, the district purchased outdoor tents for each school. As before, the district developed its plan in consultation with the district’s health and safety team, which includes the director of the Penn State Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics, two local pediatricians, and school nurses. In case pandemic conditions change either way, the plan’s flexibility will allow the district to modify safety protocols accordingly.


The district also added academic and social-emotional resources in recognition that some students, after a year of learning altered and disrupted by the pandemic, will need extra assistance. Examples include:


  • An additional middle level interventionist
  • More faculty at the State High tutoring center
  • New K-5 math intervention tools
  • More K-5 faculty to reduce class size in some classes
  • A full-time guidance counselor in every school for the first time
  • A renewed partnership with Penn State’s Herr Clinic that will provide 11 full-time graduate level interns focused supporting students and employees
  • Increased collaboration between the district’s mental health leadership team and the Penn State Psychological Clinic
  • The district’s first bilingual family liaison, made possible by COVID-19 relief funds
  • Synchronous remote learning within the Virtual Academy curriculum


After all the changes, however, one thing remained the same. A first day ushered in a fresh start, a first step on a shared journey, and Raup, for one, seemed to be enjoying every minute, especially at lunch talking with students and hearing how excited they are to be back.


“It’s wonderful,” he said. “It’s great to be back at Radio Park. The first day is always filled with so much fun and hope for the year ahead.”

By Chris Rosenblum
Video by Nabil K. Mark