MILTON AND JANESVILLE

Students headed back to school this week to the delight of many parents and teaching staff. Wednesday was the first day for the Milton School District and Thursday was the first day for Janesville schools.

“It’s obviously a unique year,” said Jeremy Bilhorn, principal at Milton High School. “We are coming into the school year with a pandemic still going on. COVID is still very real and we have masks. There’s an added level of distraction but it’s important. We want to keep students as safe as we can.”

Bilhorn is excited to have a more “normal” start to the school year. Many things were put on hold last year for Milton, and this year the staff is excited to “do some things instructionally that were challenging with our hybrid and virtual models last year.”

At elementary schools in the area, the principals at both Roosevelt Elementary School and Harmony Elementary School always look forward to seeing their students on the first day, especially when it’s the first day of school ever for the youngest students.

“At the elementary level, we have a majority of our families come with their children on the first day and they stay,” said Sarah Stuckey, principal at Harmony Elementary School in the Milton School District. “They see them off and they give them those squeezes and then parents stand and visit with each other.”

There can often be lots of tears on a child’s first day, both from students and parents. Sherry Stone, who has two daughters who attend kindergarten and fourth grade at Roosevelt, is excited for children to get back to school for many reasons.

“It’s going to be more structured at home now,” Stone said. “I’ll get up, go to school and then I can get my stuff done. The girls will learn, play and make friends.”

Stone said she is excited for her youngest daughter to enter kindergarten.

At Roosevelt, each year there is a theme to start off the school year.

“This year is bee themed,” said Stacy Petersen, principal at Roosevelt. “It’s just a way of us to unite our school culture. We really want to draw attention to kids. It’s amazing. We can really focus on the strengths of all of our kids and ... set our positive culture for the school year.”

All teachers and staff at Roosevelt were sporting T-shirts with bees on them.

Many teachers are looking forward to learning and getting to know all their students. Kindergarten teacher Amy Cleasby said she is happy to have the students back.

“I’m excited to be able to have them in the classroom and see their faces,” Cleasby said. “We may not be able to see their full face but we can see the eyes light up when they get to share an idea or show how to do something. It’s just magical.”

At Milton High School, the new year brings the opportunity to use new facilities. The high school has a new STEM (science, technology and engineering) center, which is 32,000-square feet, a new pool and many renovated areas, including a new fine arts wing. The wing is the old technology area completely renovated for the arts. The new fieldhouse will also be open this October.

The school year comes with a new mask mandate implemented last week by both schools. School officials are determined to not let the mandate be the focus of the school year.

“Just like any school rule, if there’s a non-compliance, then we address that,” Bilhorn said. “Students will be asked to put (their masks) on. If not, then there’s the consequences that come along when any school rule is broken.”

Bilhorn is looking to focus on safety overall and starting the year off on the right foot.

Roosevelt Principal Petersen isn’t worried about the students at her school

“Kids are so understanding and resilient in life in general,” Petersen said. “Once they understand why we’re doing it and it’s a rule for everybody’s good to keep us all safe, everybody is fine.”

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