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In a Class of Their Own

First Day of School Goes Smoothly for Thousands of Ventura Students


VENTURA — As the first day of school started for kindergartners at Elmhurst Elementary School on Tuesday, their tears quickly turned into smiles.

"I was sad because I didn't want my mom to go," said August Whitesell, 5. "Now I'm happy because I like my teacher and I made a friend."

Despite a few nervous kindergartners, Ventura smoothly welcomed back thousands of students Tuesday.

High schools in Oxnard and Camarillo opened Monday, and campuses in the east county districts of Simi Valley, Conejo Valley and Moorpark start today.

Students in several other Ventura County districts begin classes next week.

Elmhurst kindergarten teacher Lisa Stanley led her students on a tour of the classroom, pointing out the playhouse, the bathroom and the art center. When the kindergartners arrived at the classroom library, they immediately reached for the colorful books.

Stanley was quick to tell them what to do when they finish reading a book. "Do we just throw it on the floor?"

In response, several kids yelled, "No, we put them away."

Fellow teacher Tina Tyner said the first few weeks of kindergarten is all about making the students comfortable with being at school, and about teaching them rules and routines.

"It's not just the ABCs," Tyner said. "We're teaching them everything--how to wash their hands, hang up their clothes, tie their shoes, raise their hands."

Across the campus, fifth-graders in Judy Ketterling's class started their school year by experimenting with a sticky substance called "Ooblech." The students picked it up, squeezed it, smelled it and tried to figure out what was in it.

One group of girls jotted down the properties. Slimy. Greenish yellow. Stinky. Hard. Goopy.

Ketterling said the experiment is an attention-getting introduction to the scientific process. (By the way, the secret ingredients of ooblech are cornstarch and water).

One of Ketterling's students, Sunnie Beltran, 10, said she can't believe she finally started fifth grade.

"It's really cool," she said. "But we have to be, like, good, because the little kids are looking up to us."

High school students weren't as enthusiastic about the beginning of the 2000-01 year.

Freshman English teacher Jan Coultas asked her students to rate their first day at Buena High School from 1 to 10. Only a few students gave the day a high rating.

Coultas also spent her first day explaining rules to the freshmen. She told them they have to be prompt, prepared and polite.

"It's not going to be my responsibility to chase after you and tell you that you missed an assignment," she told the class of fidgety ninth-graders. "This is high school. You have to stay on top of this."

Stacie Duenez, 14, said she was anxious about starting high school because of the crowds and the harder classes. "It's a little scary," she said. "But I know if I focus, I can do it."

Buena Principal Mike Johnson said there were no major glitches on campus Tuesday, though the office staff kept busy with registration and scheduling.

"It was as perfect as it could be," Johnson said. "We're thrilled, because we are always a little anxious about the first day."

Back at Elmhurst Elementary, parents stood outside the kindergarten room waiting for the last bell to ring. Lisa Whitesell peeked in and waved to her daughter August.

"It's a little nerve-racking sending her off into her own little world," Whitesell said. "She is our only child, so it's a big to-do."

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