Vicky Barquero says the new school year will be challenging in the Delavan-Darien School District.

Barquero teaches third grade science and social studies in the district’s dual-language program, leading classes in Spanish.

This year, she will teach a new grade, and she must quickly learn the curriculum.

But like other teachers at the district’s back-to-school event Tuesday at West Park in Darien, she’s energized by the uphill battles facing the district.

“We are teachers who love what we do,” Barquero said.

Other teachers at the park echoed that. They said the 2018-19 school year—which begins Sept. 4—will require grit.

“Perseverance,” one said.

“Energized,” one said.

“A fresh start,” another said.

Barquero was one of about 400 people expected to attend Tuesday’s event, which was the first back-to-school picnic in about 15 years, said Julie Duval, a reading specialist at Wileman Elementary and Turtle Creek Elementary.

The event was part of interim Superintendent Jill Sorbie’s plan to inject passion and optimism into a district that has suffered recent cutbacks.

In April, faced with financial difficulties after a failed referendum, the school board voted to shutter Darien Elementary and lay off 39 teachers. Remaining teachers were left with larger classes, and staff was shuffled around to make up the difference.

But on Tuesday, district staff and their families gathered around the park’s pavilion, where Lake Lawn Resort had provided food and local businesses had donated gifts for a raffle. There, teachers said the Delavan-Darien School District is the heart of the community—and they said they were motivated as the new year revs up.

“We went through a lot last year,” Duval said. “We have a lot of challenges. But we have a lot of motivated people. And a lot of good teachers. And they’re ready to go. Something like this gets you pumped up.”

Kim Kirk has taught in the district for 30 years. Last year, she was a reading specialist, but she’s moving back into the classroom this year as a second grade teacher.

She said the diverse student body at Delavan-Darien has made her a better teacher.

More than half of the district’s students are Hispanic or Latino, and for many, English is their second language. The district also has a high percentage of students with disabilities and students who come from low-income families.

For Kirk, all that culminates in a teaching experience that is unrivaled.

“I think those are challenges that are a little bit unique in this county,” she said. “But they make us who we are. That’s part of what you learn here.”

“It’s funny because everybody thinks, ‘Oh, you’re a teacher.’ Everybody learns from you. But as teachers, you learn from the kids, too.”

On the first day of school, Barquero will tell her new students the same thing she tells them every year:

“Bienvenidos a nuestros alumnos al mundo del conocimiento, del amor, del cuidado, porque los queremos y queremos que sean triunfantes en su futuro.”

“Welcome to our school, to the world of success and knowledge and learning and love and caring, because we are very caring teachers.”

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