South Lake Tahoe schools in Nevada & California start new year |

South Lake Tahoe schools in Nevada & California start new year

Jack Barnwell
Angelina Mitchell, 8, (left), Brayden Rose, 7, and Summer Cole, 7, greet Zephyr Cove Elementary mascot Cubby, portrayed by volunteer Pedro Kinner Monday morning during the start of Douglas County's school year.
Jack Barnwell / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

ZEPHYR COVE — Students trickled in to Zephyr Cove Elementary School early Monday morning, some greeted by Pedro Kinner, a.k.a., “Cubby,” and others by Principal Nancy Cauley and Douglas County School Superintendent Teri White.

Cauley said it would be a year of firsts for the elementary school, especially with some new faces at school this year.

“We’re focusing on teaching students expected behaviors by providing positive reinforcement,” Cauley said. “It’s moving away from punitive toward positive reinforcement.”

The Douglas County elementary school houses a small student population, much like George Whittell High School across the street.

Cauley said while numbers won’t be certified until after Labor Day weekend, the small size won’t be a problem. Whittell itself has an estimated 212 students, though like Zephyr Cove Elementary, its classroom population won’t be cemented until after Labor Day.

“They can look forward to small class sizes, one-to-one support and enthusiasm, well rounded success and teachers,” Cauley said.

Zephyr Cove Elementary kindergarten teacher Konnie Susich agreed that small classroom sizes have benefits.

“It’s almost like a private school on public money,” Susich said. “The classes are small and the kids get along pretty well.”

Susich, a 35-year veteran of the school, said that in addition to traditional lessons like basic mathematics (addition and subtraction) and reading, her class attacks the Promethean Board, an interactive board that kids use to draw and write.

Susich added her kindergarten is “placed-based,” referring to stages under the Common Core education standards. For her class, it’s a “feather” theme.

“Last year we hatched chickens, and this year I think we’ll hatch ducks,” Susich said. “I even got a canary in my classroom now for them.”

Fifth-grade teacher Hanna Ouellette said Zephyr Cove Elementary’s Common Core-based lessons are partially structured on the Lake Tahoe environment.

“It’s going to be a big year for fifth-graders,” Ouellette said. “This year we are hopefully going to start building a greenhouse for the school. We also do a bunch of field trips.”

Most of the lessons outside of higher level mathematics and more advanced reading revolve around the ecosystem in Zephyr Cove and South Tahoe in general.

“There is actually enough environmental study stuff that we can do right here within a 100 to 200-foot radius of the school,” Ouellette said.

She called it a primer for when students head on to the next grade.

“When they get to sixth grade, they will actually do a huge overnight camping trip where they study ecology of the basin,” Ouellette said.

Technology also plays a part in the Douglas County School District lake schools, according to White, the superintendent.

White said Whittell High, which includes seventh- and eight-graders, began with a prep rally to roll out its new one-to-one technology plan.

“All the students have received new Chromebooks,” White said. The one-to-one approach allows students to interact more digitally, similar to South Tahoe High School in South Lake Tahoe.

Whittell has already been on the radar when U.S. World and News ranked it third best high school in Nevada in its 2015 ranking of high schools across the nation.

White said Crespin Esquivel, Whittell’s principal, has already kicked the new lessons off in style.

“Crespin kicked if off at the prep rally by having students solve problems,” White said. She added that it fits in with Esquivel’s vision of thinking about the wider world and being good global citizens.

Stacy Noyes, who has children enrolled at Whittell, said the district has been on the right track with technology.

“The technology that my kids have learned that my freshman son learned in second grade at Zephyr Cove exceeds my ability in technology,” Noyes said. “If we can continue to keep the schools capable and technology-ready, I have no doubt the school district will attract quality people.”

Lake Tahoe Unified School District students in South Lake Tahoe and Meyers will be heading back later this month, with classes starting on Aug. 31.

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