McHENRY – A group of McHenry East High School seniors gathered on the edge of the Fox River for a selfie with the sun.
The bright sphere was still somewhat tucked behind the trees on the other side of the river, but many of the students had been waiting since 5:45 a.m. for the moment, a way to mark the first day of their last year of high school.
They’ll close out the year with a sunset gathering, said Jack Miller, who along with his fellow student council co-president, Jessie Konstantelos, put on the inaugural event, inspired by speaker Keith Hawkins who visited the school last year.
“The meaning of it is to start the school year together and end the school year together,” Konstantelos said. “It’s been nice seeing everyone. A lot of these people you haven’t seen all summer because you don’t hang out with your whole class all summer.”
Miller hopes the senior gathering will become a tradition and that more students will turn out in future years.
“I thought it was a great way to start our senior year, to kind of unify us, to come together as a big family for the last first day,” said Kim Payton as she sat – mostly in silence, but with a few yawns – along the riverfront at McHenry Riverwalk’s Miller Point with some friends.
The two high schools that make up McHenry High School District 156 along with McHenry Elementary School District 15, Alden-Hebron School District 19 and Woodstock School District 200 were the first area schools to start the year Monday.
They’ll be joined Wednesday by Richmond-based Nippersink School District 2, Marengo-based Riley Community Consolidated School District 18, Wonder Lake-based Harrison School District 36, Marengo Community High School District 154, Richmond-Burton Community High School District 157, Marengo Union Elementary Consolidated School District 165 and the Special Education District of McHenry County; and Thursday by Harvard School District 50 and Evergreen Academy.
McHenry East High School Principal Eric Blake said he hopes the year is dotted with moments like these, the ones that build relationships and not just filled with the academics. That’s why the Milwaukee-area resident woke up around 4 a.m. to make it to the event.
“The bottom line is we are pushing kids harder than we’ve ever pushed them before in terms of academics, the assessment issue, the collection of data, so on and so on,” he said. “In essence, that movement has dehumanized schools quite a bit and we’d like to maintain that issue of relationships.”
McHenry High School District 156 is rolling out a new schedule this year, starting five minutes early to accommodate a new streamlined scheduling system that gives students a time to meet with teachers during the school day, Assistant Principal Kyle Hobson said.
The schedule also gives students a full lunch period – in a cafeteria outfitted with circular tables, Blake said, adding that he’s been looking for all different ways to encourage the relationship building.
“That relationship piece cannot be lost in this equation,” he said. “We have to be able to work hard, but we also have to be able to play hard.”
McHenry County school districts’ start dates for 2015-16 school year:
Aug. 17 McHenry School District 15, Alden-Hebron School District 19, McHenry High School District 156, Woodstock Community Unit School District 200
Aug. 19 Nippersink School District 2, Riley Community Consolidated School District 18, Harrison District 36, Marengo Community High School District 154, Richmond-Burton High School District 157, Marengo Union Elementary CSD 165, SEDOM
Aug. 20 Harvard Community Unit School District 50, Evergreen Academy
Aug. 25 Johnsburg School District 12
Aug. 26 Fox River Grove School District 3, Cary Community Consolidated School District 26, Prairie Grove Consolidated School District 46, Crystal Lake Elementary District 47, Community High School District 155, Huntley Community School District 158