Back-to-school: McHenry County teachers share their thoughts on returning

Many school districts begin classes Wednesday

Jazmin Vargus, 10, is reflected in her mirror as she puts items in her locker at Duker Elementary School in McHenry, on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023, during school supplies drop-off day.

Crystal Lake Central math teacher Kristie Sosnowski loves the fresh start that comes along with the start of a new school year and the opportunities ahead.

“It’s always exciting for me,” Sosnowski said.

She’s not alone.

As schools across McHenry County reopen their doors to students this week and next, some of them spoke with the Northwest Herald to discuss their thoughts on how they approach meeting their new pupils, what they look forward to and how they get to know their students, among other things.

Summer break is over for many students throughout the area, or soon will be. Students in various grade levels from towns including Cary, Crystal Lake, Huntley, McHenry, and Woodstock are heading back to school on Wednesday. Algonquin-based Community Unit School District 300 started on Tuesday and others — such as Cary School District 26 and Johnsburg School District 12 return next week.

While back-to-school can be a stressful time for all involved, many teachers say they are looking forward to starting a new year and getting to know their students. Many teachers also spend the days before the school year starts and the early days of the school year getting to know students.

Two McHenry High School Upper Campus teachers said they want to ensure they are creating “safe spaces” in their classrooms, where students feel they can open up and communicate using the language they are learning.

For students enrolled in a foreign language course, much of the first week of classes involves the teacher getting to know the students, and the students each other, “to build a classroom community,” Spanish teacher Kelleen Santoianni said.

Once students feel comfortable speaking in Spanish, knowing they can make mistakes, “they know they can take risks around people who have your back” in supporting them, Santoianni said.

Santoianni started teaching Spanish at the same time Brittany Probst started teaching English at McHenry High. Probst also is working to build a community among her students - many of whom have felt isolated over the summer and during the years disrupted by COVID-19.

For the first few weeks, “the kids are quiet and they need to be pushed to speak to one another. I want to create a safe space to communicate and not be attacked” for their thoughts and ideas, Probst said.

Jacqueline Aldridge, a fifth grade teacher at Coventry Elementary School in Crystal Lake, also has worked to get to know students before the school year. She was anxious to meet the students in person and said she emailed parents before the school’s Meet and Greet event that was held on Tuesday.

“I’m nervous, probably more nervous than they are,” she said.

Leticia Adame, a second grade teacher at Coventry, said she was excited for the school year to start.

“There’s a lot of really great energy,” she said.

Teachers at North Elementary School were just as eager for a new school year.

“You get to restart,” reading interventionist Meg Coughlin said.

Principal Michelle Barrett said that lots of changes took place at North Elementary over the course of the summer. She said five classrooms got new flooring, and there is new playground equipment, among other changes.

When asked what they hoped to share in May, the teachers were just as optimistic.

“That students have grown in confidence, leadership, and love of learning,” Abby Bolz, a fifth grade teacher at North, said. “It’s what we all hope for our kids.”