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Duluth heads back to school

Thousands of Duluth Public Schools students in grades 1-12 headed back to class Tuesday. District kindergarteners’ first day is scheduled for Thursday.

Woman hugs a child.
Myers-Wilkins Elementary School Principal Rachel Jackson hugs one student as a second waves to her at the start of the school day Tuesday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The excitement was evident on Denise Carter’s face as she walked her kids, Auhja and Leiana, up to the front door at Myers-Wilkins Elementary. The students were less enthusiastic, but both said they felt good about heading back to school.

“Positive, right?” Carter asked. “Teachable? You feel teachable today?”

“Yes,” Leiana said matter-of-factly.

“Go in there and learn,” Carter said, smiling.

She waved at the staff inside.

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Woman photographs her son.
Helena Waite photographs her son, Torin, 7, on his first day of school at Myers-Wilkins Elementary. Torin was homeschooled before this school year.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

“Nice to see ya’ll again,” she said. “I missed ya’ll over the summer!”

Auhja and Leiana were two of thousands of Duluth Public Schools students in grades 1-12 who headed back to class Tuesday. District kindergarteners’ first day is scheduled for Thursday. A total of 8,172 students were enrolled there on the first day of school, according to administrators there.

FirstDay 3
Students file into Myers-Wilkins Elementary School at the start of the school day.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

At Myers-Wilkins, staff stood at the entrance and high-fived and hugged students as they headed inside, warning them to avoid a small splatter of “first-day vomit” just inside the door. A student at the top of the slide in the school’s playground proudly announced to passersby that they were in third grade.

Woman hugs a child.
Breelynn Frischmann, a social worker at Myers-Wilkins Elementary School, puts an arm around second grader Latka Hanka’s shoulder before the start of classes Tuesday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Sean Piantek, 9, said he wasn’t looking forward to anything on his first day of fourth grade there.

“He wanted a roster of all of his friends, so definitely a little nervous about who’s going to be in class,” Saraiya Piantek, Sean's mom and a community school site coordinator at Denfeld High School, said. Saraiya said she was excited for the first day at the high school.

Farther inside, administrators were sorting last-minute paperwork snafus amid the din of a new school year: a family that had recently changed addresses and found their children enrolled in two different schools, for instance, and a formerly homeschooled student who still needed to be assigned to a class.

Man and woman working on a computer.
Office support specialist Dane Benson and Myers-Wilkins Elementary School Principal Rachel Jackson find classes for last-minute additions to the school’s student body. Jackson calls Benson, who is left-handed, her “left-hand man.”
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Principal Rachel Jackson was starting her own first day of sorts, too. District administrators hired the former assistant principal at Ordean East Middle School for 10 years to head Myers-Wilkins in August.
“Kids are kids. It doesn’t matter what age they are. I will say it’s fun getting a few more hugs at the elementary level,” she said with a laugh.

A self-described “crazy animal lady,” Jackson had a small aquarium set up in the school’s main office, plus a terrarium and a second, much larger aquarium installed in her office nearby.

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Jackson said she planned to visit each classroom in her new school this week and introduce herself.

“That’s my agenda for the next couple of weeks: just being in class, seeing what’s going on and building relationships,” she said. “That’s first and foremost. Before we can expect kids to learn, they need to know that we care about them.”

FirstDay 6
Myers-Wilkins Elementary School Principal Rachel Jackson sits by her aquarium while talking to a visitor in her office. In addition to fish, Jackson, who calls herself a “crazy animal person,” brought four geckos and a tortoise to school.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
READ MORE EDUCATION COVERAGE
From the column: "The pandemic exacerbated burnout amongst child-care workers. Safety precautions and quarantines led to understaffing. ... Workers were already experiencing burnout, and the pandemic amplified it."

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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