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Back to school

The United Way holds their annual Stuff the Bus school supply drive. Kaysey Price/Forum News Service1 / 4
The new high school is slowly being closed up. The workers are hoping to have the roof and walls enclosed by winter. Kimberly Brasel/Perham Focus2 / 4
Markers sit in a pile on a shelf. Markers, crayons, colored pencils, regular pencils and more are on the list of items needed. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)3 / 4
Alison Francis and Marsha Erickson with the United Way stand by the bus they intend to stuff with school supplies for Otter Tail County students. Kaysey Price/Forum News Service4 / 4

The school year is starting a tad early this year for the Perham-Dent School District to make time for the construction and other changes happening in the next 12 months. It's a year of change: a new high school being built for the 2018-19 school year, new teachers, and a few other altered practices meant to better the school experience.

The building construction won't be getting in the way of learning too terribly this year, other than causing the early start (Monday, Aug. 28) and an early out (Wednesday, May 23). The early out is to allow classroom construction at the middle school to begin early enough so that teachers can get back into their classrooms to set up for the 2018-19 school year next summer.

The high school construction, which won't affect classes this year, since it's a separate building, is coming along well according to the Perham-Dent Superintendent Mitch Anderson. They are laying concrete in second-story classrooms and looking to get the walls and roof sealed in before the first snowfall to save on heating costs.

As for the elementary school, this year, they will open their (new) doors, with an all-new entryway and buzz-in system, meant to increase school security, and a few mechanical upgrades, with two new heating pumps.

With classroom construction completed or deferred until school is out in May, teachers are already back in their classrooms, decorating and readying for their students.

The Prairie Wind Middle School teachers in particular are looking to alter their "culture" this year by incorporating practices from the book "Called to the Middle" by Joseph Eidson.

After studying the book over the summer, the middle school faculty has decided to incorporate two new practices into their school year: 1) Strive to increase the number of students making a connection to the middle school by helping each student connect with at least one adult, club, program, organization, or team; and 2) Use an advisory team to expose students once every month to some type of service learning activity.

Another change this year includes the number of new teachers at Heart of the Lakes Elementary, Prairie Wind Middle School, and the Perham High School. New teachers at the elementary school include Jesse Hein, elementary classroom instructor; Susan Keranen, special education instructor; Sarah O'Reilly, ESL instructor; Lindsay Renfrew, elementary classroom instructor; Laura Lamb, preschool instructor; and Kelli Stoll, physical education teacher. Marilyn Kunza, special education instructor; Matthew Lamb, band instructor; and James Mulcahy, behavior interventionist are joining the middle school staff. And the high school is welcoming a new math instructor, Kelsey Karlen, and a new Spanish instructor, Alissa Lepp.

Activities will be changing a bit this year as well, with the new yellowjacket activities season pass pricing and structure change. The new fees allow senior citizens and students all students grades K-6 as well as students in grades 7-12 who are in an activity into activities for free. Students in grades 7-12 who are not in an activity can purchase a year pass for $30; adults pay $50 for a year pass; and a family can purchase a year pass for $110. For single events, adults pay $6 for entry and students pay $4.

Back to school buying

Speaking of school-related costs, the United Way knows how expensive school supplies can be for families.

"It seems this is a tough time of year for families," said Marsha Erickson, director of resource development and early childhood initiative with United Way of Otter Tail County.

For this reason, the United Way has been putting on a Stuff the Bus drive to collect school supplies and make backpacks for Otter Tail County students.

At the drive, a bus sat along Main Street in front of City Hall Park, and people brought school supplies, which the United Way participantes literally used to stuff the bus.

"The turnout has been great and we've had financial donations as well," said Alison Francis, volunteer and event coordinator with United Way of Otter Tail and Wadena counties.

The United Way also takes donations from private drives that businesses may hold and they have a number of barrels positioned around the counties where people can drop off school supply donations.

As of Monday, they used the supplies to make up backpacks and distributed them to families who applied for them.

"Any child who lives or goes to school in Otter Tail County is eligible," said Erickson, adding that they don't look at a family's income at all. "We just ask for the grade the student is going into, the school they go to, their name, and their age."

They need to know a little about each student because each backpack is made to the student's specifications—they stuff backpacks according to what their school supply list says they need.

"Preschool ones (backpacks) are the most inexpensive," said Erickson. "But the middle school and high school backpacks are worth about $65, $75."

This year, donations were down a bit, said Erickson. Last year, they stuffed about 820 backpacks; this year they were able to make up and distribute about 750—but that doesn't mean there won't still be some supplies left over for anyone still in need.

"We hang on to the extra supplies for the next couple of weeks," said Erickson. "There's always something that comes up."