Community starts class with a roar

Tuesday, August 24, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:51 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

They slowly enter the room with stealth and trepidation. Some are foreign to this new environment. Some have traveled here before and quickly mark their territory. Within seconds, they recognize the presence of others around them and their primal instincts kick in. A loud roar erupts in the middle of the classroom.

No, this is not an exhibit at the Saint Louis Zoo. It is a classroom that has come alive because the students have returned for the new school year. This classroom belongs to Patty Avery, a math teacher at Rock Bridge High School.

Avery has been a teacher for 30 years. But more importantly, Avery has been a vital part in the school community.

Along with students, the community includes teachers, administrators, counselors and parents, all of whom were working together Monday to make the first day a success.

Avery is filled with energy and optimism on the first day of school. Her classroom is inviting with blinking miniature Christmas lights strung around half the room and a small wooden board with the words “Organized Chaos” chiseled into it sitting on top of the blackboard.

Avery’s name means “Keeper of the fairies,” and she makes jokes about the name proving prophetic, although she has students to tend to rather than woodland creatures.

She stands by her door greeting with a smile every student that walks into her classroom. She is not afraid to admit that teachers can learn a thing or two from students.

“I’m still learning so much from them,” Avery said.

But Avery is not alone in her efforts to ensure that students become fully immersed into their school community. Jane Piester, a guidance counselor at Rock Bridge High School, also understands the importance of starting students out on the right foot. She emphasizes that the first day of school sets the tone for the year. That’s why, like Avery, she makes an effort to greet every student who comes into her office.

“I think I have the best job in the world because I work with kids,” Piester said.

Parents are another essential part of making the first day of school a success. Angela Patterson, whose daughter, Lindsay, is a first-grade student at Field Elementary School, said parents’ coming together to improve the school system is vital to the school community.

She credits Field Elementary School for fostering her daughter’s love of books and said the close relationship among Patterson and the school’s teachers have helped Lindsay learn to read.

Jermaine Spain would agree the parent-teacher relationship is the most important part of the school community. Spain’s son, Antonio Betts, is a fourth-grade student at Field Elementary School, and Spain thinks parent–teacher conferences are the No. 1 way to make sure children are on track in school.

Spain said that the school community is so strong at Field Elementary School that the principal, Carol Garman, recently visited Spain and his family at home to meet Antonio. The visit helped Spain realize the importance of everyone involved in the school system, especially the parents.

“Each parent should know what their child is being taught so that they can help them learn,” Spain said.

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