JOLIET – The summer felt short, but Joliet Central junior Doloria Wedgeworth is looking forward to volleyball season and applying to colleges this school year.
“School is very important in my life,” Wedgeworth said, adding that she wants to go to college and eventually law school.
The small bouts of stomach butterflies and the opportunity to reconnect with friends are getting students excited for the new academic year, which starts this week for some Will County students.
And school districts are trying to keep that enthusiasm of student achievement high.
“Education is the best policy,” said Robyn Newell, Wedgeworth’s mother. “We’ve got to have education for our kids.”
Michele Zavala is entering her freshman year at Joliet Central. The prospect of high school is filling her with a lot of excitement, although she is dreading waking up early and walking the long distances to make it to her new classes on time.
“It’s scary,” Zavala said. “It’s just everything. It’s new.”
Zavala’s mother, Guadalupe Zavala, has been getting her ready to go back to school with clothing and supplies.
“I’m nervous, too,” she said.
Netbooks for students
Joliet high schools are undergoing several changes.
Probably the most significant one is that all students at the high schools are guaranteed netbook computers provided by the district.
“We started this program the first year with freshman students,” Superintendent Cheryl McCarthy said. “Last year, they were given to freshmen, sophomores and some juniors. And this year, all students get one.”
McCarthy said the netbooks will allow students to learn with a digital component, JT Learn, along with regular classroom instruction.
“This helps close the digital divide with families who may be more low-income,” she said.
Students will use preinstalled programs on the computers. But they also can install their own applications like a personal computer, as long as the application is allowed through the district-installed filter.
The lunch lines in the high schools will no longer accept cash this year. All students will need to use their student ID cards, which will be attached to accounts using www.mylunchmoney.com.
“The last several years, students had the opportunity to use this,” McCarthy said. “This will speed up the process for lunches because cash will not be moving back and forth. It also puts some control for parents.”
School districts now will have to abide by federal nutrition standards, which are applied to any food and beverage sold to students during and 30 minutes after school. Also, candy can’t be sold before, during and 30 minutes after school.
And along with regular physical exams, the Varicella chicken-pox vaccine is required this year. Students in kindergarten and the sixth and ninth grades must show proof of having received two doses of the vaccine.
Some changes surely have a cost. But area school districts have made some efforts to reduce significant raises in student fees.
Plainfield Consolidated School District 202 preschool fees have stayed the same at $88. Elementary school fees increased from $113 in 2010 to a high of $132 for fourth-graders. Sixth-grade fees increased from $143 in 2009 to $160.
Joliet District 204 has kept the instructional material fee at $160, the activity fee at $25 and the per-sport participation fee at $50 for the past five years.
Another set of federal guidelines, the Common Core standards, have been implemented to introduce students to higher-level math and language arts.
Plainfield District 202 – which includes elementary, middle and high schools – is entering a second year of applying the Common Core standards to its curriculum.
“Much of our focus this year, like last year, will be on implementing the Common Core State Learning Standards,” said Tom Hernandez, the director of community relations for the district.
This fall, the district is implementing the English language arts standards. This will help students in the first round of Common Core state standardized testing next spring.
“This is a huge process, and very significant for lots of reasons, not the least of which is the magnitude of change that the Common Core brings in terms of academic expectations for our students, teachers and schools,” Hernandez said.
START DATES FOR WILL AND GRUNDY COUNTIES AREA PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICTS
Aug. 12• Reed-Custer 255U
Aug. 13• Gardner-South Wilmington Township High School District 73• Minooka Community High School District 111
Aug. 14• Lockport Township High School District 205• Plainfield School District 202
Aug. 15• Coal City School District 1
Aug. 18• Chaney-Monge School District 88• Channahon School District 17• Fairmont School District 89• Joliet Public Schools District 86• Joliet Township High School District 204• Morris Community High School District• Taft School District 90• Union School District 81• Wilmington School District 209U
Aug. 19• Gardner Community Consolidated School District 72C• Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210• Mazon-Verona-Kinsman Elementary School District 2C• Minooka School District 201• Morris Elementary District 45• Nettle Creek District 24• Richland School District 88A• Rockdale Elementary School District 84• Saratoga School District 60C• Valley View School District 365U
Aug. 20• Crete-Monee School District 201U• Elwood School District 203• Frankfort School District 157-C• Homer School District 33C• Milne-Kelvin Grove School District 91• Manhattan School District 114• Mokena School District 159• New Lenox School District 122• Troy School District 30-C
Aug. 25• Laraway School District 70-C• Summit Hill School District 161• Will County School District 92
Sources: School district websites