By Tim Leeds
Cars were lined up and down both sides of the street Wednesday morning by Highland Park Early Primary School, the first day of class for all Havre kindergarten and first-grade students to attend the same school.
Nathan Meyers was waiting for his little sister, Falcon, to arrive. She was taking her first bus ride to her first-grade class and he wanted to make sure it went well.
"She's excited about coming to school. She was up at 6:30," he said. Falcon wasn't too sure about riding the bus for the first time, but when she saw some friends getting on the bus with her, the ride didn't seem so bad, he said.
"It's very hectic," Sarah Griffith said about the first day at Highland Park School. "The bell rang about a half-hour ago." Griffith, along with other family members, had just taken her niece, Julie McKinney, to school.
Meyers said getting everything ready for school was a little hectic, too. He said stores were running out of the supplies, and finding things took several trips.
"We still haven't gotten her watercolors," he added.
Having grade-level schools is new to Havre, a result of the restructuring of Havre Public Schools approved by the School Board in April. Lincoln-McKinley became a primary school, with all second- and third-graders, and Sunnyside is the intermediate school, with all fourth- and fifth-graders.
Classes began for all schools on the Hi-Line in the last week or two, and some of them also experienced changes. KG Schools downsized its lunch program, and began shipping lunches prepared at the high school in Gildford for the elementary students in Kremlin.
Principal Butch Marshall said the program got off to a good start on Aug. 22, and everything is going fine.
While many Montana schools are facing budget shortfalls that accompany declining enrollment, not all schools on the Hi-Line are.
Harlem High had a surprising increase of 30 students, from 248 in May to 278 when school started on Monday. Third-year principal Kathleen Eaton said the school usually picks up a few more when students come back from the Labor Day holiday.
"We have kids from shore to shore, sea to shining sea," Eaton said.
Because of the increase, classes are a little larger. The district added one teacher to the junior high staff, anticipating more students, but things are a little tight at the high school, she said.
The school is continuing some programs it has found work well for students. The school awards silver and gold cards to honor students showing excellence in academic performance, and is still in the Gear Up program to help potential first-generation college students prepare and plan for higher education.
She added that kids seem to want to play in sports, too.
"We have nice numbers on our athletic teams," she said.
Havre High started the school year with a few changes. Some teaching positions were cut in the restructuring, French class was eliminated, and the sizes of some other classes are a little larger.
One new feature is a student assignment book the kids are required to use, with planners to record assignments and scheduling, a section for the teachers to mark hall passes, and assorted tables, figures, information and tips on studying and organizing.
Senior Brady Johnson thinks the new assignment books are a little weird, and isn't happy about having to carry another book around.
He said the planners and tables in the book are pretty nice, though.
Johnson said he kind of liked being back in school.
"I thought it would be pretty boring when I came back, but it's actually kind of fun," he said.
The thing he is looking forward to most this year is the start of the hockey season. Johnson has been in the hockey program, which is not an activity sanctioned by Havre High, for eight years.
Chavonne Parker is a ninth-grader who came to Havre High this year from the Box Elder schools. She said attending Havre High is a lot different from going to eighth-grade. As for the first day, she said she liked it.
"I'm kind of glad to be back," she said. "It's better than sitting at home doing nothing."
Wednesday was Mark West's first day as a guidance counselor at Havre High with classes in session. He said the first day was "good, but overwhelming."
West was an elementary counselor before starting at the high school. He said he's looking forward to working there, but said there's a lot to learn.
"I'm new, so everything's a learning process, but it's going well," he said.
Not everyone liked their first day of school.
"Not fun," Tyler Sayers said about his first day of kindergarten at Highland Park on Wednesday.
Ruby Sayers, Tyler's mother, said he just doesn't want to go to school. She added that he did like recess.