Tuesday marked a new beginning as Rankin Elementary opened for the first day of school.
Parents and children hugged and snapped photos in front of the school located at 2155 Airport Road.
At the drop-off area by the playground, Jill Aaker leaned over and gave her son Joey a big hug. He was starting third grade. He previously attended school at Peterson Elementary.
“I love you. Have a wonderful day,” she said before he headed into the playground.
Rankin Principal Merisa Murray was there to greet students at the gate. She said while most of the student body is drawn from Kalispell Public School’s five other elementary buildings, the majority is coming from Peterson and Elrod.
Students were excited when they spotted familiar faces from their previous schools. Fifth-grader Izzy Walter was swept into a group hug with three friends who previously attended Elrod.
“I’m looking forward to, like, fun activities [and] science,” Walter said grinning.
In another line, parent Eric Robbins gave a thumbs up to his son Lincoln, who was starting second grade.
“Linc, hey Linc,” he said holding up his phone, trying to get his son’s attention for a final photo.
Does the first-day drop off get easier as children get older?
“Oh yea,” Eric Robbins said without hesitation. “And mom’s excited.”
“We have a little kindergartener here who starts next week,” he said looking over at the youngest Robbins child, Maisen, who was leaning against mother Cherie. “This will be the last of our empty nest. We have two at college at MSU (Montana State University).”
He said the tears might flow on Maisen’s first day, but today was all smiles.
Eric Robbins noted that Lincoln, who moved to Rankin from Peterson, will miss his former teachers, especially music teacher Paul Lovett.
“He loved Mr. Lovett,” Eric Robbins said.
But there are many things to look forward in the year ahead — new teachers, new friends and a new building.
“I like the layout. I think it’s very intentional in how they did things. It’s got vision behind it,” he said.
Waiting with his classmates in line, Lincoln Robbins also had something to say about his new school. After asking what his favorite part of school was — “all of it” — his dad attempted to help him hone in on one thing.
“What do you love?” he said.
“I do like the design of the playground,” Lincoln Robbins said with nonchalance.
“The design of the playground,” Eric Robbins repeated, pausing, possibly in amusement. “Maybe you’re going to be a playground architect when you’re older.”
The start of the school day at 8:30 a.m. was snappy. At the sound of the bell students ran from the playground to their designated lines and began filing inside the school. Families gave waved goodbye one last time before leaving.
Second-grade teacher Shelly Kennedy watched her students line up. She was holding an orange Gerber daisy plant given to her by a student. Kennedy transferred to Rankin from Edgerton where she co-taught a “super second” classroom with Suzanne Elliot, who also joined Rankin’s staff. Super-sized classrooms were one of the short-term solutions to district-wide elementary overcrowding, which the new school will alleviate. Instead of 38 students, the two teachers have smaller class sizes. Kennedy has 20 students in her class this year.
“I am really looking forward to getting to know this class and doing things I couldn’t do before because the classroom was so big,” Kennedy said.
Although the two teachers are back into individual classrooms, they are neighbors, separated by a movable wall, which Kennedy said was nice afte co-teaching for that long.
“You learn from each other continually,” Kennedy said about the co-teaching experience.
Her class was the final group to walk inside the school. Using an electronic key card to open the door, Murray was the last person to go inside to begin a new year.
After breaking ground on the new elementary in June 2017 — the Rankin Raptors have finally arrived.
Kalispell’s sixth elementary is the culmination of district-wide facility planning that kicked off June 2015 followed by the passage of a $25.3 million elementary bond issue in October 2016, which covers renovations currently underway at Edgerton, Elrod, Hedges, Peterson and Russell. Voters also approved a $28.8 million high school district bond issue for renovating high school facilities.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.