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Detroit Lakes High School juniors Taylor Kohler, Sadie Larson and Rhett Sperling have a laugh in the DLHS media center during the first day of school Tuesday afternoon.

DL students see changes on first day: Life circles back to school

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DL students see changes on first day: Life circles back to school
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

The air was buzzing with energy and excitement as the 2011-12 year began at the Detroit Lakes schools Tuesday.

"I'm really excited to be here," said Teri Miller, a new fourth grade teacher at Rossman Elementary.

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She is just one of many changes, big and small, throughout the district this year.

"Last year I was a kindergarten teacher at Ulen," said Miller, "but now I'm with kids that already know how to read and write, so I'm looking forward to seeing the other side of that development."

And although she seemed comfortable and confident with the sea of new faces that would be hers for instructing over the next nine months, her students offered up some advice to her anyway.

"A good teacher should be patient," fourth-grader Liberty Odneniewind advised her new teacher, "And just be yourself," added classmate Justice Boltjes, "And we'll listen to you, and we won't scream or yell," promised little Lyla Hansen.

Miller isn't the only new teacher getting her first taste of Detroit Lakes this week, as Rossman Principal Sandy Nelson says there are 10 new instructors in his school alone - including two new "cultural teachers," which will essentially replace Spanish language.

"It's so that our kids can get exposure to different types of cultures, including Spanish, Somalian, and several others," said Nelson, "They're talking about having a different culture every month -- learning about each culture and looking into the celebrations - exposing them to something other than just the Midwest, Minnesota, yah, you betcha type of thing."

Nelson says the cultural classes are state funded, provided to communities surrounding Perham, a region rich in diverse culture.

Similar classes will be held at Roosevelt, the Middle School and High School.

Likely the most noticeable change in the district this year is the parking lot and drop off-pick up area at the Middle School and Roosevelt.

After years of north side drop off, parent got their first experience with the new south side traffic flow pattern at Roosevelt.

It was slow going as cars stacked up entering in from the east side, but Business Manager Ted Heisserer says nothing can really be gauged by first-day traffic.

"So many people drop their kids off on the first day that wouldn't normally be here in the mornings, so we'll have to wait to get a good idea of whether this really works."

Also new at Roosevelt was Principal Renee Kerzman, who said things were going smoothly on her first day.

"I went into all the classrooms to say hello to all the students and teachers, and in one of the second grade classes, the teacher had taught them to each come up and formally introduce themselves," said Kerzman, "And he taught them to properly do that by shaking hands and looking the person in the eye, so it was, 'Hello Mrs. Kerzman, my name is...'"

"It was very cute."

A disappointment at Roosevelt was the absence of third-grader Ashtyn Carrier.

Classmates of the nine-year-old had been anxiously anticipating her return after battling a rare immune disorder for over a year.

Just as she was getting ready to join two of her brothers and a school full of students and staff that have been pulling for her recovery, she fell ill and is now once again hospitalized in Fargo.

According to her mother, Kelly Carrier, it's likely a virus that's taking a toll on her little body, which is still depleted of white blood cells after a bone morrow transplant.

There's no word yet on when she'll join her third grade class.

Meanwhile, at the Middle School, change continues to be in the air.

Four fifth grade classes now housed at the Middle School make for a 'cozier' building, according to Principal Mike Suckert.

"It's over 100 additional students here now, and while we've got room for them, it's noticeable," said Suckert, "Things are tighter, especially at the lockers."

And as the fifth-graders now join the sixth-graders in figuring out the complexities of locker combinations, they do not yet share the new Middle School experiences of switching classes.

"Some of them, especially at Rossman, are used to only having one teacher per class," said Suckert, "and now they're having seven or eight different places to go."

"It's easy," said sixth-grader Isaac Howard, who gets a double whammy of new experiences as a transfer from Frazee. "It's a lot bigger, but I had lots of friends from soccer here; plus we came in last week to find out where all my classes were, so it's good."

"Plus they have a lot more lunch choices in Middle School," said sixth-grader Ethan Walz, nibbling happily on a chicken patty, "They had pizza, ribs, chicken ... it was awesome."

At the High School, things are also changing a bit, as the school has now changed to a one-bell system.

Previously, different classes ended at different times, requiring a variety of bells throughout the day. Now, every class gets out at the same time and begins at the same time.

But High School Principal Steve Morben says the big change this year at the high school is there are no big changes.

"Instead of implementing a bunch of new programs, we are focusing more on teachers and improving instruction," said Morben, "so now this year each department has an hour every day where they can meet as a group and talk about different problems, situations, student interventions and instructional improvement."

Also doing some instruction on the first day of school were district experts - the seniors, who were conducting freshman orientation for the first half of the day.

"We just work with them so that they can make the transition a little easier," said Senior Casey Fonder, a 'Link Leader.'

He is one of roughly 40 juniors and seniors who volunteer to mentor younger students in a positive way.

"Being top of your class in middle school and then coming here where you're the little person, it's just a hard transition," said Fonder.

Freshman Morgan Eiter says although she isn't nervous, it is a different feeling.

"I do feel little," she said quietly, "and I think the classes will be tougher with more assignments and more challenging material," said Eiter, but adds she and her friends are looking forward to the dances.

Finding a good balance between social lives, extra curriculars, family and academics can be tough, says Fonder, but it can be done.

"Just stay strong, eat food to help your brain stay healthy and get a good night's sleep," Fonder advises, "You're gonna need it."

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