Lining up on the playground behind signs printed with their teachers’ names, students at Poly Drive Elementary wiggled, laughed, talked, hugged and waited Wednesday morning for the bell to ring.
It was the first day of school for most Billings students and many —at least at Poly Drive — seemed eager to get back to the classroom.
“Mine were excited to go to bed last night and excited to get up this morning,” said parent Tom Felstet.
Felstet’s daughter Sidney is part of an accelerated studies pilot program that Billings School District 2 is offering for the first time this year at Poly Drive. The class, paid for through a two-year federal grant, is made up of 28 fourth- and fifth-graders from across the district who were selected by lottery to join the program last spring.
Grouping them in a single classroom, the district hopes to better meet the needs of the students and give them a comfortable space where they can be pushed and challenged.
“I’m excited,” said Kelly Wright, whose son Collin is in the class. “I think it’s a great opportunity. The hardest will be not having them at their home school.”
The 28 students in the program left their neighborhood schools — which in many cases meant leaving friends and siblings — to join the new class at Poly Drive. For some of the students, the new school, the new classmates and the new surrounding didn’t faze them at all.
Mason Johnson, a fourth-grader, sat at his table with five of his classmates at the start of class, extolling the virtues of the world’s tallest buildings. The Willis Tower in Chicago, which used to be called the Sears Tower, is the tallest building in the United States, he said knowingly.
“The Twin Towers were, until they were bombed,” he said.
On the other side of the room, Drayden Haunt, Kaitlyn Yates and Hannah Bick quietly talked while they moved from table to table putting their supplies away.
Drayden said the move to a new school wasn’t such a big deal.
“I just moved here,” she said. “From Wisconsin.”
Kaitlyn was a little more apprehensive.
“I was kind of nervous at first,” she said, until she met a few of the kids who were going to be in her class.
“If you meet a couple of people, you feel a lot better about it,” she said.
Now she’s excited for the class.
Terri Porisch, the class’s teacher, sees her job as being the same as any other teacher in the district. Her goal is to meet the needs of her students and teach them how to work hard. She’s also hopeful the new program proves its worth.
“I just feel this is opening a huge door not only for our kids but for our district,” she said.
The parents feel the same.
“This is absolutely an amazing experience,” Maggie Vralsted said. “Now (these students) will be at a much higher level of learning.”