Teachers, here they come!

At Shelledy Elementary School, fifth graders Wesley Pietz, dressed as the bobcat mascot, and Cooper Skalla return to classes Monday as family, friends and community members line the sidewalk leading to the school.

With widespread building improvements, later start times and the first year of full-day kindergarten, students heading back to School District 51 classrooms this week have more than a new school year to celebrate.

Students at Tope Elementary School couldn't contain their laughter and shrieks of joy while exploring a new playground funded through a $150,000 Colorado Health Foundation grant.

"What's special about this is kids were a part of the design and planning," said Superintendent Diana Sirko. "It's great to see something that has such personal ownership by the kids, by the staff and the school community. It's fun to share in their joy, because not only are they enjoying their playground, but enjoying their role in making it a reality."

Construction at Fruita Monument High School is still underway as building crews construct a new central corridor and front entrance for the school.

Most classrooms and hallways are not affected by the construction, said Principal Todd McClaskey, but it's made navigating the already-challenging building a little more difficult for incoming sophomores.

Some students were at school early on Monday, McClaskey said, though it's not clear whether it was enthusiasm for a new year or because they forgot that high school classes are starting 30 minutes later this year.

"I think kids are excited about the extra sleep and that seemed to go pretty smooth," McClaskey said. "We're excited about another school year and can't wait for this project to be completed and for our students and staff to benefit from all the changes. Some of them, like the new parking lot and improved HVAC, we're already noticing."

District-wide full day kindergarten starts Wednesday, but nearly 75 kindergarten teachers met on Monday to plan and strategize for the school year.

Previously, kindergarten teachers used the first two days to test incoming students for math and reading, said Assistant Area Director Dan Bunnell.

"We asked if that's really the best thing for kids, and decided to get to know our kids a little better before we assign them a label or score," Bunnell said.

Instead, kindergarten teachers explored new teaching materials and learned about how to go deeper into academic, social and emotional learning with a full day class.

Nearly half of the teachers had experience with full-day classes, Bunnell said.

"I think full day kindergarten will even the playing field for students across our district and our state," Bunnell said.

While the district doesn't have an official kindergarten headcount yet, Sirko said she expects a growth in enrollment from parents who were previously planning on enrolling their children in full-day programs outside the district.

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