Back-to-school activities promise good year ahead for Moffat County schools |

Back-to-school activities promise good year ahead for Moffat County schools

Lauren Blair

The Link Crew freshman orientation Wednesday at Moffat County High School connected incoming freshmen with junior and senior mentors in fun activities to help freshmen make the transition to high school.

— As the nights cooled and the mad rush of summer coasted to a close this last week, kids, parents and teachers began the yearly ritual of back-to-school nights and orientations.

Monday will be the first day of school for public school students in Moffat County, which means the past week has been full of events geared toward welcoming students, parents, teachers and staff back into the routine of the school year.

The routines aren't all the same as years past, however. With a number of new administrators and staff in the district this year, Moffat County schools are setting out to put new ideas into action and make the old ideas work even better.

Moffat County High School

Moffat County High School kicked things off Wednesday afternoon with the Link Crew freshman orientation. The four-hour event, spearheaded by MCHS counselor Donna Weinman, included icebreakers, small group activities and a costumed tour of the school, with a big emphasis on leadership for the upperclassmen and on feeling connected for the freshmen.

"I wanted freshmen to come in here, and I wanted them to feel welcome," Weinman said. "I wanted them to know someone had their back. I wanted them to feel like they belong here."

Incoming freshmen were met Wednesday afternoon in the MCHS auditorium by juniors and seniors who volunteered to become Link leaders, or mentors to the freshmen. Bear River Young Life Area Director David Pressgrove loosened up the nervous students with an energetic pep rally to start.

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"There's a spot for you here," Pressgrove told them. "Some of you have already found your spot. Whether it's in sports, drama, it's your job to find your spot."

The first annual event was a success, with a 90 percent turnout for the freshman class. Weinman, who instructed the junior and senior Link leaders to "be the change," is optimistic about the impact the mentorship will have on the school climate.

"I think it's important for freshmen to feel like they don't have to stand on the sidelines, that they can be valuable to the school as freshmen, that they don't have to be a senior to be involved and make an impact," Pressgrove said.

Craig Middle School

The quiet that had settled on the halls of Craig Middle School during the summer months was replaced Thursday evening with the boisterousness and nervousness of students and parents at Back-to-School Night.

This year, the event gave kids and their families the opportunity to move through a simulated class schedule, with precisely six minutes in each classroom before the bell rang to cue the four-minute passing period.

Incoming sixth-graders seized the opportunity to practice their locker combinations in each passing period, relying on hovering parents nearby to help them learn the tricks and turns required to coax open their lockers.

"It's sometimes hard, and then I keep practicing," said 11-year-old Cristal Holguin, a sixth-grader who struggled at first to open her locker but had it down solid by the end of the night.

"I'm kind of excited for the new experience," Holguin said. "I'm excited and nervous at the same time."

Sixth-graders aren't the only ones at CMS looking to big changes in the year ahead. CMS has a new principal, a new assistant principal and at least seven other new teachers and staff.

Scheduling changes include a 90-minute class at the end of the day for seventh- and eighth-graders to prepare them for the high school's block system. "Focus time," or homeroom, has been moved to midday instead of first thing in the morning, and recess now will happen before lunch for sixth- and eighth-graders to encourage them to finish their meals.

"We'll have a few growing pains, but just ask questions and we'll answer them as best we can," said Martha Laliberte, a teacher of 22 years.

Moffat County elementary schools

Moffat County's elementary schools celebrated the start of the school year with their own back-to-school open houses for kids and parents Friday evening.

For Craig's youngest students, the school year promises the continuation of favorite old traditions and the start of new and innovative programs designed to help kids excel in their learning. A common thread throughout all four elementary schools is a strong emphasis on the first of the school district's stated goals for this year: connecting.

"I want everyone who walks through the door to feel loved, whether it be a parent or a kid," new Sunset Elementary School Principal Jill Hafey said.

Hafey, though new to the position, was in fact a student herself at Sunset, to which the picture of her third-grade class hanging in the front entryway testifies.

"Not only does Craig have a special place in my heart, but so does Sunset," Hafey said.

With eight new staff members this year, Hafey will focus on rebuilding school culture and carrying on favorite traditions such as Coffee and Kleenex for new kindergarten parents when they leave their little ones behind for the first time Tuesday, as well as Girls on the Run and Destination Imagination.

Over at Sandrock Elementary School, parents have been busy for weeks preparing to sign up new members for the Parent Accountability Committee, or PAC group, at the open house Friday night.

"They're wanting to actively recruit parents at whatever level they're able to help the school," Sandrock Principal Kamisha Siminoe said. "It's parents asking parents to help in any way or fashion they can."

On Monday, Sandrock students will dive right back into a favorite Sandrock tradition, the town hall, or PAWS meetings. PAWS, which stands for "practice respect," "act with kindness," "work together" and "stay safe," is a celebratory weekly assembly practiced in all four schools. It serves as a platform to recognize students for living up to these standards, and students at Sandrock even get the chance to recognize teachers for a job well done also.

"I think it provides a great sense of community for our kids and our staff," Siminoe said.

While PAWS assemblies help the school connect on a group level, staff and teachers at East Elementary School hosted a round of "welcome back" conferences Thursday and Friday to give students and their families one-on-one time with teachers. Children and their families each had 15 to 20 minutes with their new teachers for the year in order to discuss challenges and strengths and develop trust.

"This is our way of reconnecting," East Principal Sarah Hepworth said.

Hepworth will place an emphasis on literacy activities at East this year, with a book club for kids that offers them a free book each trimester and the chance to get together to discuss the book, just like in an adult book club.

"We really are trying to get kids to love reading," said Hepworth, whose goal is to create 21st-century learners who are able to think beyond what's in front of them.

Meanwhile, Ridgeview Elementary School teachers and staff spent the past week brainstorming ideas for how to get kids and parents more connected to the school.

Principal Amber Clark had no shortage of inspiration about how to go about it but emphasized the importance of giving teachers the stage to decide how to best support their students.

"The work that they do is really the most important work in society," said Clark, who recognizes them as the "workhorses" of the school. "I believe in public education."

Ridgeview will focus this year on supporting not just the kids who struggle but also the kids who excel. Similar to the PAWS assemblies, students can earn rewards throughout the trimester for specific kinds of good behavior. There also will be special activities for kids who are all caught up on school work, allowing kids who need a little extra time to get up to speed.

Clark also is excited to continue Ridgeview's tradition of family nights each month throughout the year, with different themes and events such as science night, music concerts and literacy week.

With all the changes the district has seen in recent years, morale is high and optimism for the coming school year even higher amongst district staff.

"We're headed down the right road," said Siminoe, who has been a teacher and administrator for MCSD almost continuously since 1991. "We're always pushing to be better. We have some really great work ahead of us and some folks that are coming in to help support us. For me, I'm really excited that we're making great strides."

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education.

Educational alternatives

While Moffat County School District gears up for a new year, other educational outlets in the area also are preparing to start the learning experience.

GOAL Academy

The online charter school, located in Centennial Mall, 1111 W. Victory Way, began offering classes for the year Aug. 4 and will be increasing its output come Monday. The program is open to ages 14 to 21.

Annette McCurdy, associate director of the Craig site, said GOAL will have registration open through Oct. 1.

“If they want to join, they won’t get behind, and they can quickly get caught up,” she said.

For more information, call 970-329-2152 or visit

Calvary Baptist School

Craig’s private school will start classes Monday at Calvary Baptist Church, 1050 Yampa Ave. Now in its fifth year, the school offers a nondenominational Christian approach to education for all ages.

Administrator Michelle Peters said teachers will employ a new curriculum for younger students this year. Grades six and higher will continue to use the Accelerated Christian Education model, which allows students independence as they learn, while the kindergarteners through fifth-graders will start the A Beka program.

“It’s more hands-on for teachers,” she said.

Currently, the school has 22 enrolled, with the likely cutoff being 30. Tuition is $250 to register for the first month, followed by $265 each following month.

For more information, call 970-824-3111 or visit

The church is also home to Eagle’s Nest Preschool, which will begin its program in the following week. For more information, call 970-824-2552.

Northwest Colorado Home School Association

Parents interested in teaching their children at home are welcome to become part of a group of families that join together to provide the best education for kids.

Organizers will meet at 6 p.m. Sept. 2 at Craig Assembly of God Church, 1150 E. Ninth St., to discuss home-schooling, followed by a meeting at 8:45 a.m. Sept. 3 at the same location to plan cooperative activities for the year.

“We’ve got a lot of great opportunities for involvement,” President Connie Sue Ellis said.

For more information, call 970-824-6911.

— Andy Bockelman, Craig Daily Press