Parents played "family bingo" at Sand Point Elementary's parent orientation on the first day of school.
Parents played "family bingo" at Sand Point Elementary's parent orientation on the first day of school.

After just over two months of summer vacation, Seattle Public Schools students returned to class Sept. 7.

At Sand Point Elementary School in the sleepy Windermere neighborhood of Seattle, students filed toward campus, many with parents walking hand-in-hand alongside them.

Principal Kirsten Roberts stood outside the entrance, welcoming all comers to the new school year. She was joined by district Superintendent Larry Nyland, on his first campus tour for the first day of school.

“It’s definitely exciting to see the first day of school,” he said.

Later that day, Nyland would visit Garfield High School in the Central District a half-hour after their students had filed through the front doors.

The 2016-2017 school year is the first to operate under new school start times for both primary and secondary learning institutions in Seattle’s school district. All high schools and many middle schools now begin the day at 8:45 a.m. -- 55 minutes later than the previous year, in many cases. Meanwhile many elementary schools, like Sand Point, are beginning the day up to an hour and a half earlier at 7:55 a.m.
As Roberts maneuvered Nyland around the recess yard minutes after the first bell of the day, she pointed out a student wheeling a cart of boxed meals to a portable classroom -- part of the school’s new policy of providing breakfast to all students during morning roll call.

In the school multipurpose room, the few dozen parents who had decided to stay for orientation settled into seats. Some carried on conversations with acquaintances and neighbors. Many blinked back the last vestiges of sleep. A table off to the side held a row of Starbucks coffee travelers and steadily disappearing towers of paper cups.

Roberts empathized with her tired audience, explaining that she spent the wee hours of the morning soothing her own teething 3-year-old. But, ever the educator, she framed her story in an explanation of how Sand Point staff use RULER: a Yale-developed system for teaching emotional intelligence by encouraging people to track their mood and energy on a color coded graph.

“At first I was in the blue [negative energy, negative mood]; I mean, it was 3 a.m.,” she said, giving her audience a conspiratorial chuckle. “Then we started feeding and I got back to green [negative energy, positive mood].

“Of course, then I realized I had to wake up to get ready two hours later, so then I was right back to blue.”

Parents were invited to share their hopes for the new school year. One parent said “friendship.” Another said she hoped her daughter would learn empathy in addition to math, science and reading.

“I hope that my child will be going even further in developing her confidence this year,” Heather Bottomley said.