By Sarah Colson
Town Acres kindergartener Reagan Sutterlin may not have learned to count to one million like she thought she would back on her first day of school, (You may remember when we first introduced you to Reagan in our Aug. 12, 2015 issue) but she did learn what it means to go to school: for Reagan, that meant facing her fears and adjusting to life after pre-school.
“Reagan had a rough start to her year,” Reagan’s mom, Jessica Sutterlin said. “She didn’t like the structure. She kept asking me, ‘why can’t I just craft?’ She just wants to craft all day. That’s all she wants to do. So she had a rough couple weeks.”
Sutterlin, whose other two children Emmalynne (second grade) and Clara (3) are both extroverted, turned to the staff at Towne Acres to see what could be done to help Reagan be a bit more comfortable.
“I wasn’t used to it because my first (child) was like, ‘yeah, mom, see ya. I’m gone,’” Sutterlin said. “But the school counselor here paired Reagan up with a fourth grader who came and met her at car line because you can only walk them to class so many times.”
After a couple weeks of her fourth grade buddy walking her to class and to the cafeteria, Reagan started to feel right at home. Now, her older sister walks her halfway to class and sends Reagan on her way.
Another area Reagan was a bit shy in at first was gym class.
“She would say, ‘I don’t want to go to gym,’” Sutterlin said. “And now she says, ‘is it gym day? Great. I need my tennis shoes. You gotta wear tennis shoes to gym.’ These teachers will do what they need to do to help your kids, to get them involved and make them feel comfortable. I can really tell this past year how involved the teachers get to help kids be comfortable here and learn.”
Reagan’s teacher, Erin Ward, is one of her best friends now and she’s also grown attached to several other teachers as well.
“Reagan still loves Mrs. Ward,” Sutterlin said. “Half the time on field trips she doesn’t want to hold my hand. She says, ‘where’s Mrs. Ward?’ She just loves all the teachers. For her birthday party…her guest list was Mrs. Ward, Mrs. Fifer who was Emmalyn’s first grade teacher, Mrs. Powell in the office and another kindergarten teacher, Dr. Campbell. They were all teachers.”
One thing Reagan loves almost as much as her teachers is arts and crafts. When News & Neighbor visited last Friday she was working on making a paper cow—black with white spots. Reagan said this summer she plans on working on even more crafts and spending time with her sisters.
Creating a comfortable atmosphere, especially for kindergarteners, is something Towne Acres Principal Dr. Steve Barnett and his staff work on before the students are even placed in a classroom.
“It’s interesting how a class takes on the personality of the teacher,” Barnett said, “but really also the personality of all the other kids in the classroom. That’s one of the reasons we do the staggered enrollment in the fall is so we can get to know them just a little bit before we put them in the class. And then we place that class with a teacher.”
This school year, Barnett said the students have continued the high standard of learning Towne Acres is known for, citing the school’s consecutive three-year reputation for being a “reward school for achievement, two of those years for achievement and for grades.” Unfortunately, Barnett said, this year they weren’t able to earn that accolade due to the state’s standardized testing cancellation. On April 27, Tennessee officials canceled the testing for grades 3-8 because the vendor, Measurement Inc., did not ship the exams in time.
“We were looking forward to having those new test changes to see how we performed,” Barnett said. “Our students were really ready and prepared for that. So we were actually disappointed. The vast majority of the children were disappointed that they didn’t get to take the test, but that’s OK. We’ll just keep moving and we get an extra week of instruction in, have a little bit of fun at the end of the year.”
Next year, Barnett said, Towne Acres will just continue to do what the school has always done: teach with an emphasis on fun. How the students perform at the end of the year will be a reflection of the hard work coupled with creative fun they’ve been having all year.
“We’ll just continue to teach,” Barnett said. “If the students know what the material is, if they understand the standards—if they can apply the math, they can read texts at a high level in order to take that and write about it and understand what they read—they’ll do fine on the tests they’re given.”
Towne Acres’ last day is May 26. While she’s loved her first year of “real” school, Reagan said she’s ready for summer break. Sutterlin said she’ll spend a lot of her summer preparing for her new role as PTA President.
“Being so involved is extremely important for me,” Sutterlin said, “because when you get involved, especially with things like the PTA, you get to know all the teachers. So they’re comfortable asking you for help; you’re comfortable asking them for help. Then your kids get to see you. They get to see you involved, get to see you there. My kids have loved it.”
Sutterlin will only have one more daughter to send to school and she said she’s sure to be emotional when little Clara skips off to her first day of kindergarten with her sisters. But for now, Sutterlin said she’s just enjoying watching Reagan become more and more comfortable with this whole school thing.
“She’s just so loving,” Sutterlin said of Reagan. “She’s just a little more sensitive of a person than my other two. She’s my quiet, loving, ‘just give me a hug,’ little child.”
Happy summer to Towne Acres and all the Johnson City and Washington County students, from your friends at the News & Neighbor.