The first day of school can be either daunting or monotonous for many students – daunting for those beginning a new school year in a new building with people they don’t know, and monotonous with the repeated introductions from teachers and syllabus readings.
This is not the case for the first day of school at Tullahoma High School (THS).
Rather than fill the first hours of the new school year with the same rote routines, the faculty of the high school helped the Wildcats learn a wide variety of skills and hobbies in order to make the day more instructional.
More than 50 small seminar classes took place over the course of the first day of classes last week, with topics ranging from creative hobbies such as embroidery, do-it-yourself home projects and photography, to more practical lessons on cooking and grilling, how to do one’s own laundry, self-defense and how to file taxes.
According to THS Principal Kathy Rose, the idea of the classes came from English teacher Jenna Morris at the end of the last school year.
While over the past couple of years, the school has held a “welcome back to school” party of sorts, complete with games and activities for students and teachers alike in order to “set the tone for the year,” Morris wanted to see if there was a way to change how the school approached the first day of school.
In addition to the small competitions, the entire school breaks for an hour on the first day to have a schoolwide lunch in the gym.
“While the activities have been fun the previous two years, our Renaissance Action Team felt like we needed to shake things up a bit,” Morris said. “We don’t want anything to go stale.”
Morris then worked with former digital arts teacher Nikki Rickard on a way to allow students to learn things about which they are interested and passionate.
Rickard brought up a program in another state that allowed students to choose their preferred interests and learn related skills. Morris liked the idea, so she pitched the idea of trying it out at THS to enthusiastic support.
“Everyone jumped on board,” Morris said.
‘A positive note’
Once the idea was accepted, Morris said she worked with district “technology guru” Susan Sudberry in order to set up a registration system for returning THS students and incoming freshmen.
Of the more than 50 different seminars, students were allowed to choose three to attend during the day, with each class lasting 45 minutes.
All current Tullahoma students who would be at the high school this year then signed up for their three preferred seminars before school let out for the summer, according to Rose.
Those incoming freshmen who weren’t able to do so before their summer break also had an opportunity to sign up during their annual orientation, Project Initiation.
By allowing the students to sign up for the classes they want, Morris said the students come to school excited about learning something, rather than afraid of what the new year will hold for them.
“It allows us to bring students back on a positive note to set the tone for the school year,” she said. “It allows us to teach them life skills they are interested in that don’t generally fall under our standards and that we, as adults, understand they need to know.”
‘Taxes and Other Grown-Up Forms’
One such life skills seminar course was “Taxes and Other Grown-Up Forms,” taught by history teacher Melissa Freeman Tinnel and economics teacher Shawn Martin.
Taxes are complicated at the best of times, Martin said, but going over the basic tax forms, such as the 1040 and 1040EZ, with students early could help them be better prepared to save and invest their money later in life.
In addition to going over a basic overview of taxes, Martin said he and Tinnel also taught students the tax advantages of investing in a 401(k) or a 403(b) retirement fund, as well as the advantages of investing in real estate.
“All taxpayers should understand strategies to lower their income taxes and prepare for retirement,” Martin said.
While the information students received was “fairly overwhelming,” Martin said he hoped the students at least took away a basic understanding of tax law and the necessary information they will need in the future.
“Even if a tax professional eventually has to help them, each student should understand the various parts of the [tax] document,” Martin said.
A rousing success
According to both Rose and Morris, the inaugural run at the first-day-of-school seminars was successful.
Morris said she’s gotten “a lot of positive feedback” from her students on the classes they took.
Rose agreed, saying she’s also received positive feedback from both students comments complimenting the idea on the school district’s Facebook page.
Some of the more popular classes, according to Morris, included Fortnite 101, Basic First Aid, Self-Defense, Fishing Do’s and Don’ts, Grilling, and Basic Childcare. Rose added that How to Change a Flat Tire and CrossFit 101 were also popular classes with “standing room only” available in their respective classrooms.
An additional benefit to the seminar classes is the relationship building that occurs during the time slots.
“It allows us [as teachers] to build positive connections with students that otherwise might not have been made without the classes,” Morris said.
Rose resolutely echoed Morris’s evaluation, saying that having all the teachers involved and teaching their students about their own hobbies allowed for more personal relationships to be built between students and their educators.
“Students have seen firsthand skills and interests that their teachers have, which might not always have a chance to present themselves in a classroom,” Rose said. “They [the students] may not have even learned the teacher’s name, but they will recognize ‘that fishing teacher,’ or ‘that gift-wrapping lady’ when they see them in the hallway. That’s a good connection, and we want all of our students to connect with someone at THS.”
Rose particularly thanked Morris and Sudberry for their time and effort in organizing the day, saying none of it would have been possible without their organizational skills.
“All in all, we consider the day to have been a great success,” she said.
Erin McCullough may be reached at email@example.com.