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New kindergarten class leaves teacher without a room

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Rhonda Wadley, seated, helped kindergartner Ali Moore enter her lunch code Friday at Orchard Elementary School in Jackson as teacher Jennifer Pehle watched. A seventh kindergarten class was added this school year to accommodate 155 incoming students.
(Kit Doyle)
Joan Howard stands before her second set of music students, she and her portable keyboard, and repeats the rules for the 14th time during the week.

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.

Musical instruments now reside in a closet area due to a large enrollment and reallocating rooms at Orchard Elementary School in Jackson.
She is the faculty member most affected by the school's late decision to add a seventh kindergarten class. Orchard Elementary saw an influx of kindergartners once the Primary Annex was eliminated as part of the plan to expand the high school campus. To make room for all of the schoolroom rookies, three of Orchard's third-grade classes were shifted to West Lane Elementary.

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.

Space crunch

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

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Ms. Howard as well as her students need to be commended for dealing with this frustration. It looks like she is making the best of a difficult situation.

-- Posted by moonlite on Sat, Aug 25, 2007, at 6:12 AM

Why didn't the administrators at Jackson realize that by shutting down the Primary Annex and moving kindergarteners around would create a shortage of classrooms at other buildings? Oh yeah, it's because they want to create a demand for a new elementary school around east main street! Peg, did someone from Jackson "tip" you off to this story? I am sure that in the next couple of weeks a story will be done on the fact that children at West Lane only have 6 minutes to eat their lunch because of overcrowding...

-- Posted by budman79 on Sat, Aug 25, 2007, at 9:47 AM

Looks like Jackson School is going to ask for more money in TAXES to build another school.Where are they going to put it this time?& how much do they want this time?With all the space they do have you think they would come up with something.I wounder who called the Southeast Missourian on this storey.The School?So,that is a sneaky way of showing tax payers,{we want More Money.}I think Jackson School is getting TOO BIG for their pants!!!

-- Posted by dazzy on Sat, Aug 25, 2007, at 9:57 AM

I have lived in a lot of places across the U.S & never lived any where,Where a school has asked for a new school almost every year or every other year!!!! IM DEFINATLY VOTING NO NO NO!!!!!!NO MORE TAXES JACKSON!!!!!

-- Posted by dazzy on Sat, Aug 25, 2007, at 10:01 AM

Why was the Primary Annex shut down? How old was that building? Yup you all are probably correct. We'll be seeing another tax increase on the ballot.

I say do away with some of the sports programs until the basic needs are met first. I'd like to see a breakdown on how much tax dollars go to fund all the nonessential programs like FOOTBALL, 'Rasslin (as it's called in Jackson), Basketball, Baseball, Soccer, Golf, Track, CC, cheerleading, even marching band, etc., etc. .

Actual ACADEMICS like Math, Science, etc., etc. should always come first before these other activities. Let's start cutting some of these programs down or look to booster personal participant funding only.

-- Posted by QT-PIE on Sat, Aug 25, 2007, at 10:09 AM

Why don't they bring in a portable classroom (what IC had after the tornado hit) to have music in? Perryville Elementary does that.

-- Posted by monochromatic on Sat, Aug 25, 2007, at 10:10 AM

The Primary Annex is being renovated to house the Industrial Arts/Ag Departments at the high school.

This is being done to relieve crowding at the high school.

The high school is crowded because the elementary schools are crowded.

The elementary schools are crowded because Jackson is GROWING.

Stop pretending that the school district is engaged in some kind of conspiracy to steal your taxes. You're in a growing community, and that's what happens. Jackson is a sought-after community because of its school system.

-- Posted by sideshowbob on Sat, Aug 25, 2007, at 5:52 PM

Hey! There's 2 new FEMA trailers sitting at the Highway department building on Hwy 25 south of Delta, maybe there's a way to utilize one of those until space becomes available. Perhaps Gerald Jones knows if the school could get one of those new trailers that were never used for hurricane refugees but are available to government agencies for a nominal fee. Seems like I read an article in the Missourian awhile back where they were going for $2500

-- Posted by Missourian on Sat, Aug 25, 2007, at 5:58 PM

Should Jackson no longer allow any more families with children to move into the district? How can you accommodate more students without creating more room? FEMA trailers would only alleviate the situation for so long. Every time the school has a referendum or other tax increase on the ballot, it fails and they have to modify the plan to get it to pass. This results in only being able to afford stop-gap measures. So, naturally, it isn't long before the district has to come to the taxpayers again. When you become a part of a community, you have to be willing to support that community. If you don't want good schools (and good schools DO include more than the 3Rs) or think they don't matter because you don't have children in them, then move to a different community.

-- Posted by brooke_hc on Sat, Aug 25, 2007, at 7:57 PM

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