Back to school is a family affair in Columbia

Monday, August 24, 2009 | 7:50 p.m. CDT; updated 11:04 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Scott Southwick walks home with his children Linus right, 5, and Polly, 7, at the end of their first day of school on Monday. While Scott was picking up the kids from Lee Elementary School, his wife had started her first day back to classes as a professor at MU.

COLUMBIA — For children such as Polly Southwick, the first day of school is like Christmas morning. For others, such as her brother, Linus, who started kindergarten at Lee Elementary School on Monday, it means easing into a new way of life,

Over the past couple of weeks Catherine Rymph, a history professor at MU, and her husband, Scott Southwick, have put Linus to bed earlier at night to prepare him for his first day of school because, his mother said, he likes to stay up late. But Polly, who is returning to Lee for first grade, had no trouble getting up for school on Monday.


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“I was going to wake her up at seven, but at around 20 past six this morning, she came down fully dressed and ready to leave,” Rymph said.

With summer vacation in the rear-view mirror, families are returning to days dominated by math lessons, spelling tests and band practice. Columbia Public Schools' unofficial first-day reports said almost 17,400 students began classes on Monday, up by 74 students over first-day figures last year. But because the community is home to so many educators, back to school is a family affair.

“During these back-to-school days, our house is an exciting place to be,” said Bill Allen, assistant professor of agricultural journalism at MU.

His wife, Debbie, serves as coordinator of graduate recruitment, training and career services at MU’s Christopher E. Bond Life Sciences Center. During the school year, the couple commutes together before parting ways for the day as they head to their respective departments.

All of the Allens' children are involved in public education. Their eldest child, Katie, 27, teaches math at Hazelwood Central High School in St. Louis; John, 24, works as a teaching assistant for MU’s biology department and is pursuing a master’s degree through the Truman School of Public Affairs; Robin, 22, is an MU senior majoring in English. John and Robin live at home.

“One of the great joys of this time of year for our family is that we’re both contributing to public education," Bill Allen said, “and our kids are taking advantage of a fine education here at MU.”

Consequently, the family's dinner table talk centers around public education, especially during back-to-school week.

“We exchange news of interesting things that happen to us in the classroom or in conversations with students,” Bill Allen said. “We look forward to those conversations when school starts up, whether we’re trading funny stories or talking through problems.”

After teaching for 31 years, David Roebuck, a political science professor at Columbia College, is also used to returning to school. Roebuck said, however, that with children, easing the family back to school takes time. His two sons, Dylan, 17, and Adam, 15, are students at Rock Bridge High School.

“There’s so much freedom during the summer," Roebuck said. "It normally takes a couple weeks to adjust.”

Roebuck said that when his sons were younger, the family used to ease the boys into the school routine by instating earlier bedtimes about two weeks before the start of classes. Now, with two teens in high school and a 20-year-old in college, the transition isn’t as difficult.

“They’re big kids now," he said. "They probably should be able to adjust pretty quickly now.”

With Dylan looking at colleges for next year, the family is preparing for that transition as well. “I have trouble realizing that I’m that old,” Roebuck said.

College is a long way off for 5-year-old Linus Southwick, who told his mother on Monday afternoon that the highlight of his first day in kindergarten was writing his name in shaving cream with his fingers. Catherine Rymph also reported that Polly checked on her little brother throughout the day, relishing a new responsibility.

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