Back to class

Rocklin schools welcome students for new year
By: Teresa O'Hanlon, Placer Herald Correspondent
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It was a day for alarm clocks, anticipation and new beginnings. Wednesday marked the first day of school in the Rocklin Unified School District. Ruhkala Elementary kindergartener Rylee Banta was excited to eat lunch in the cafeteria. “I’m going to bring my own food … a ham sandwich,” Banta, 5, said as she smiled at her new teacher Gail Salata. Four hundred and seventy-five students started classes at Ruhkala Elementary, including three kindergarten classes participating in the district’s full-day Kinder Plus program. The program allows one teacher to work with 26 students on a graduated full-day schedule. Due to enrollment shifts at several district elementary schools and last year’s opening of Sunset Ranch Elementary, more kindergarten classroom space opened up at certain campuses including Breen, Twin Oaks and Rocklin Elementary Schools where kindergartners also stay for an extended day. Schools offering the traditional half-day kindergarten program have the benefit of two teachers to approximately 26 children for most of the day. “There are different approaches to meet the individual needs of the students in the school,” said Rocklin Unified School District Superintendent Kevin Brown. “We try to give the schools autonomy and flexibility in how they need to meet the needs of their community, their constituents, rather than a one size fits all kind of program.” Brown also said the district’s popular Foundations for Success (FSP) transitional kindergarten program will open at more school sites next year. FSP or pre-kindergarten serves children age-eligible to begin school, but with younger birthdays, benefiting from the kindergarten curriculum taught at a different pace. Currently there are two Kindergarten FSP classes at Rock Creek Elementary. “We’ve been doing this in Rocklin for about 5 to 6 years now,” said Brown. Now the state has changed the law and the state is telling every school district in California, ‘Do what they’ve been doing in Rocklin.’” Rocklin Unified serves more than 11,000 students on 16 campuses. Rocklin is also home to four charter schools that welcomed students back on Wednesday with the exception of Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, a 7-12 college preparatory charter opening its new campus to students on Sept. 6. At Whitney High School last Friday, freshmen got a head start on finding their way around the Wildcat’s 50-acre school site. Student orientation teamed up senior mentors with six to seven freshmen for the morning and throughout their first semester geography class. “We developed this program with an emphasis on helping the younger students and being there to take care of them, instead of developing a culture of hazing and bullying,” said Whitney Activities Director Jason Feuerbach. “Freshmen students should not be worried about attending high school due to hazing or other activities and it is our goal to provide an environment where the seniors are there to support those incoming students.” Senior mentor Dale Hill, 17, gave his group a detailed tour of campus. “The program also helps freshmen get better grades and be more successful in high school,” Hill shared. Freshman Matt Henry, 14, seemed relived to have a tour guide. “I know Whitney is a good school,” said Henry. “I’m a little nervous about meeting my new teachers, but I like Dale. He’s funny.” Rocklin Unified is working diligently to put students first despite the fact that it has $5.6 million less in total revenue in 2011-12 than in 2007-08, which is a 7 percent cut in funding. In addition, the district has grown by approximately 700 students during that same time. “We are still providing a quality educational program for our students, thanks to the district employees taking furlough days, the Federal A and Education Jobs Funding received, and to all of our employees who are working extra hard,” said Brown. Over at Twin Oaks Elementary, returning to school brought good memories for fifth grader Andre Treadwell, who has embraced his school’s “The Leader in Me” program. “We learn seven habits and the first one is to be proactive,” said Treadwell. “I was new last year and I know how it feels when you don’t have any friends and I liked how people showed me around. They taught me to be proactive and seek first to understand, then be understood. I have lots of friends now.”