School year begins for Valley students

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NORTH BEND - As Opstad Elementary School kindergarten teacher Tonya Coburn put the finishing touches on her room before the first day of class last week, she enjoyed the last few moments of peace. Coburn's computer played classical music, which blended nicely with a small fountain of water running over stones nearby. She made a few final scribbles in her notebook and stapled the last few pieces of paper to a wall covered with maps, handwriting exercises and letters.

That serenity would soon be broken by a barrage of children and parents bringing the anxieties and excitement of the first day of school to her room. A muffled roar began to build outside as buses and cars started to arrive around 8:45 a.m. At any moment the children would all come through the door with little idea of what to do, but with a wide-eyed anticipation of the day to come.

Coburn wouldn't want it any other way.

"The kids are excited, and that makes you more excited," Coburn said.

Coburn was one of the many teachers and support staff in the Snoqualmie Valley School District who started their classes on Sept. 8 (Two Rivers School started on Sept. 13). This year, the growing district had 289 teachers and specialists on the first day of school, 14 more than on the last day of the 2003-2004 school year earlier this June. The district will not have an official enrollment until later this week, but last October, it stood at 4,818 students.

Coburn didn't always want to be the one greeting kindergartners on the first day of class. She started out as a first- and then second-grade teacher in Arizona with plans on working her way up through the grades to be a seventh-grade math teacher. Initially, Coburn believed there seemed to be a little too much drama with small children in classrooms.

"I never dreamt of teaching kindergarten, because the they were so young, but when I taught in Arizona, I shared a wall with a kindergarten class," Coburn said. "I heard noises on the first day of school that didn't sound right for a classroom."

After watching children learn to read, however, Coburn wanted to be involved with students at the early stages of their learning. She said kindergarten students are eager to learn in a way that is unique to their age since the whole school experience is still so novel.

"Everything is new to them," she said.

This will be Coburn's fifth year teaching kindergarten and she said most of the first-day nervousness is gone. She is glad to be in kindergarten and having the opportunity to see her students grow up, fast, in the elementary school years. While she corralled the first few kindergarten students who arrived before class started, Coburn's previous students couldn't help but stop by and give her a hug before heading to their own classes.

"You're extremely proud of them [past students]," she said.

The first day of class can be suspenseful, but the close-knit community of Opstad has made the school a good place for education, Coburn said. Unlike her previous school in Arizona, families with children at Opstad tend to stay in the Valley longer. Some of the parents dropping their kids off last week have children who have already gone through kindergarten at Opstad, which gives them and the younger siblings an insider's sense of what school is like.

"She has been looking forward to this," said Heidi Green, who's daughter Sarah started kindergarten in Coburn's class last week. "She has been talking about riding the bus with her big sister [fifth-grader Jennifer]."

Following a brief drawing activity to get students comfortable in their desks, Coburn's first task is reading a story to the class. The story, "'Twas the Night Before Kindergarten," is a play on "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and tells the tale of children preparing for and then going to their first day of kindergarten. When the story was finished, parents got a final hug from their children before heading off to an orientation.

Coburn started the day's lesson and was already in a groove. It was the first day of the first year of their schooling, but Coburn was already referring to her students as the graduating class of 2017.

"It [first day of class] is a little nerve-wracking," she said. "After four years, you have a handle on it."

Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at

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