No fiddling with desktops. Sit up straight to sing. Feet go on the floor, hands on the desk or in laps. No chewing gum or candy, for safety reasons.
Then the 21-year music teacher tells them the most important rule of all:
"Respect each other's space."
The veteran teacher knows that improvisation will be essential for classroom survival this year at Orchard Elementary. And it's all about the space.
But Orchard got more kindergartners than it expected. In January, 120 students were enrolled by parents for Orchard's kindergarten classes. But 40 more signed up after Aug. 1. When principal Clay Vangilder noticed the class sizes were going to exceed the recommended class maximum of 25 students per class, he asked parents of Orchard students if they would be willing to drive their children to South Elementary. That was not a popular idea.
That's when the district decided another kindergarten class was necessary at Orchard. And that's when Joan Howard found herself without a classroom.
"There's not a closet or a nook or cranny around that's not used," said Clay Vangilder, the school's principal.
Orchard Elementary is educating 155 of the school district's 317 kindergartners. The school's remaining 395 students are divided among eight first grades, seven second grades and three third grades.
"We're trying to adapt as best we can," Howard said.
Classroom on wheels
Just a few days before school started, Howard packed up the full-size bongos, xylophone and colorful one-note tubes called boomwhackers. She filled five 2-by-3-foot envelopes with laminated teaching aids and stored the 2-year-old Clavinova digital piano in an office hastily converted to a storeroom. Songbooks and rhythm sticks and bells filled boxes stacked on and around the piano. Oversized spiral binders for illustrating music lessons were neatly propped against a wall in the former music room's large closet. Other teachers filled the old music room with little chairs, tables, bookcases and kindergarten paraphernalia. The only remaining sign of the room's original purpose was the carpeted floor, which was installed to help acoustics.
Howard now delivers lessons to 18 classes a week. Her workspace is a three-tier rolling cart, stocked with a portable Panasonic keyboard donated by Shivelbine's Music & Sound in Cape Girardeau, a child-size red-and-white xylophone and whatever teaching aids a class needs. She uses a bulletin board border -- imprinted with a colorful music motif -- to decorate the cart.
She rolls the cart to each classroom for a 50-minute lesson.
"Raise your hand if you came to school on the bus," she says to 23 first-graders on Friday morning. Hands shoot up from half the students.
"How many of you came to school with your parents, walking or in a car?" she asks. The rest of students raise their hands. She smiles and leads them through "The Wheels on the Bus."
Her music lessons are layered to help children learn dates, colors, numbers, new words, spelling and physical coordination. In the past, Howard included simple dance segments through the school year. She's not sure if those lessons will be included this year.
Angela Luttrell's twin daughters, Leilei and Zairee, 6, were among Orchard's first kindergartners last year. Friday morning, after she walked the girls to the school's sidewalk and kissed them goodbye for the day, Luttrell said she hadn't noticed a space crunch but likes the teachers.
"As far as the school goes, it's great," she said.
Paul Speakman of Fruitland walked his son, Ryan, from the car to the school's cafeteria. Ryan, 5, is the youngest of Speakman's six children. His father said the school has done a pretty good job of blending in the new classes, though space is "a little bit tight."
He said his son doesn't seem to notice.
"He's excited about school," Speakman said.
The kindergartners are at lunch, and Howard is in her prep area/store room now, retrieving more supplies for her next class.
She says she understands having a few more kindergartners is a good problem and that the problem should be addressed in time.
But for now there are children to teach.
Off to class
She stands amid the boxes of song books. She walks into the hall toward her old room. She opens the closet and pokes around one of the big brown envelopes for laminated pictures.
"This is a good school district," she says. "It attracts people to Jackson. We do have good schools."
Howard closes the closet door and returns to her rolling cart. Three more classes to go.
335-6611, extension 127