School districts across the South Fork will welcome students back to their hallways and classrooms next week, in many cases with new classes and clubs on offer, recently hired teachers to meet and greet, sparkling facilities to explore, and new chances every day to make it a great academic year.
Things are looking good at East Hampton High School, according to the principal, Sara Smith, who said in a back-to-school message on the district’s website that she’s looking forward to “another inspiring and productive year of learning.” Students can take advantage of the new Model United Nations Club and Photography Club, and administrators welcome ideas from students for clubs of their own creation.
“We try to be as responsive as we possibly can to student interests,” Ms. Smith said.
East Hampton High School is introducing another rigorous math course, Advanced Placement precalculus, and a new culinary arts course in farm-to-table cooking that makes use of local farms.
After many years, driver’s education has once again been worked into the regular school-day schedule as a semester-long class, rather than outside school hours; the school district even bought two specialized cars for the program.
“It allows our students who are very busy and have multiple commitments on their plate to take advantage and get that done during the day and not feel behind,” Ms. Smith said. “And for families, too, it’s not always easy to schedule that and find time for it, so it helps our families navigate that system as well.”
East Hampton administrators are especially revved up over the launch of the automotive studies program, a three-hour-each-day class that takes place at the district’s bus depot on Springs-Fireplace Road. Thirteen students have enrolled in the first year of the two-year program, which will be taught by Ted Page, a mechanic turned teacher.
“For the first year, that’s outstanding,” Ms. Smith said. “It’s a very cutting-edge program in a state-of-the-art facility.”
At the East Hampton Middle School, Charles Soriano, the principal, is excited about brand-new lockers that will soon replace the current ones, which are at least 40 years old. They are in “really bad shape,” he said. “This is a significant and long-awaited upgrade.” The replacement is slated for the end of September.
Mr. Soriano also announced that the theme of the 2023-24 middle school year is mindfulness, with a focus on helping students “to cultivate feelings of well-being, to practice optimism, to imagine what delights and inspires them, to cope with their stress, to improve self-regulation, and, finally, to learn how to respond rather than react — mindlessly. All tricky life skills,” he wrote in a recent letter to parents.
“It’s the ideal time to talk with students about their own brains and bodies. Reliable research is instructive: The teenage brain needs to practice making decisions in a thoughtful, mindful manner despite its developmental predisposition for snap, emotional judgments.”
Mr. Soriano has asked students to read the poem “The Delight Song of Tsoai-talee” by N. Scott Momaday to ready themselves for classroom discussions and “mindful” curriculum elements in subjects like gym class, math, and English language arts.
New at East Hampton’s John M. Marshall Elementary School is free lunch and breakfast for all students, thanks to a federal program called the community eligibility provision. Based on the high percentage of students already receiving free or reduced-price lunches, it is meant to ensure that all students can focus on their studies and growth without the distraction of being hungry.
The elementary school is also adding a new club called K-Kids, which is a branch of the international Kiwanis organization. Karen Kuneth, the principal, said it “encourages students to become active by serving and leading to better their school and community. . . . Our advisers, Ms. Alba Pettas and Ms. Susan Peterson, are looking forward to the start of what we hope will be a longstanding club.”
School administrators in other districts are anticipating the skills and experiences that newly hired teachers will bring.
In Springs, Debra Winter, the superintendent, is particularly excited about the school’s new chorus and general music teacher, Dylan Greene, a Springs School alumnus himself. “I’m thrilled. He has that appreciation for an early-development love of music,” Ms. Winter said. “We all know the earlier you put some of these things in place, the more appreciation our students have for them.”
Mr. Greene, who previously taught at East Hampton High School and is a member of the popular musical ensemble REEB (Real East End Brass), said he is looking forward to sharing the joy of music with his students. “To be able to do so in my home district, my alma mater, is an incredible opportunity,” he said. “I’m excited to make music with these kiddos year after year . . . on their journey to lifelong musicking.”
At the Montauk School, the new superintendent and principal, Joshua Odom, said he’s looking forward to having multiple new teachers on board. They include Julia Short, an East Hampton High School graduate and former student of Mr. Odom’s, who will teach in the Response to Intervention program supporting students who are at risk of falling behind academically, and Jenna Lipman, a Springs resident and “ball of positive energy,” Mr. Odom said, who comes to Montauk after six years of teaching math in the Bronx, and who has also taught in Belize and in the Teach for America program.
There will be a shift in school discipline policies toward “restorative justice” practices, which give students ownership over correcting behavioral mistakes outside of typical consequences like detention and suspension.
“I’m interested in tying some curriculum and intention to how we help kids when they make mistakes. That’s near and dear to my heart,” Mr. Odom said. “It doesn’t have to be that complicated, but we can put systems in place where kids are able to reflect and work within our school community to figure out the best way to move forward when mistakes do happen.”
He added that physical improvements and upgrades to the facilities were in store. “The building needs attention,” he said. “I feel like we need to make some investments in our building, and that serves our community and our kids really well.”
Over all, “everyone’s really excited and has a lot of great ideas,” Mr. Odom concluded. “Montauk School is in a great place. It’s all opportunity. . . . I really feel like the sky’s the limit.”