South Shore students head back to school |

South Shore students head back to school

William Ferchland

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Karlee Koeppen, 5, is all giggles as her father Karl preps her hair for her first day of kindergarten Tuesday outside Sierra House Elementary School.

One could tell third-grader Max Brejc is sentimental by seeing the shirt he chose to wear for his first day as a student at Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School.

The shirt, a faded white piece commemorating the closure of Meyers Elementary that donned autographs from teachers and students, was an example of how beloved the school was and how the school, once resigned as a memory, metamorphosed into an achievement for Lake Tahoe Unified School District.

“They didn’t change the cafeteria,” Maia Bickert, a third-grader sitting near Max, said during lunch. Bickert also attended Meyers Elementary for kindergarten and first grade before going to Tahoe Valley for second grade.

“It appears to be a real smooth opening,” said Beth Delacour, district director of human resources, who will help head the school with Superintendent James Tarwater.

One needed fix was a bolt on a playground slide, Delacour said.

A few miles away at Sierra House Elementary, students were marveling at the changes at their school. The two pod-style, open classrooms were turned into traditional classrooms with doors. Students waiting in line for lunch Tuesday said they preferred the changes.

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“I like it and I like it because it looks more organized and a bit nicer,” said fourth-grader Akshay Shah.

“It’s nice because it’s better, ’cause you don’t have too much people (making noise),” said Monica Landa, also a fourth-grader.

Samantha Lynn Anderson-McGann had her own recommendation.

“There could be a little bit more girls than boys,” she said.

“Fine, we’ll make it an only-girls school,” said friend Janerin Padilla.

A victim of budget cuts, Meyers Elementary and Al Tahoe Elementary closed last school year. Ideas on the future of the boarded site floated around such as a convalescent home and low-cost housing.

After a month on the job, Tarwater, hired from Ocean View School District in Orange County, proposed an environmental magnet school at the site based upon community work done on alternative education.

Roughly six weeks after the magnet school idea was approved by the board July 20, the school opened its doors with the rest of the district’s five sites.

“I think it feels different because we have a vision for what we want the school to be,” said third-grade teacher Beth Quant, who spent 18 years teaching at Meyers Elementary and last year at Tahoe Valley.

The first trimester of the school’s environmental focus has been mapped in three topics: water, earth and biomes. One of the first homework assignments for students is picking a school mascot.

Technology will aid instruction. According to Ken Lamascus, a district technology support specialist, the computers are top of the line.

“There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “This is the latest and greatest stuff. Nothing compares.”

Students will have the use of 80 laptops with biometrics, which requires a student fingerprint to log in to their personalized settings. Wireless capabilities will let students to take their laptops 300 feet from the school, allowing them to make observations on the school’s back lawn.

Teachers will have their own computer tablets, which they can cradle in their arm like a textbook, to direct computer-based lessons with touches from an electronic pen.

A dozen Smart Boards, interactive whiteboards, should arrive soon. Images from cameras, pointed at, say, a science project, can be projected onto a wall or screen.

Such technology is already in Bay Area schools, Lamascus said.

“It’s nice to see in Tahoe we’re not forgotten about,” he said.

Tarwater is working on technology grants to bring that level of technology to all the elementary schools.

“So we can be high-tech all the way across the board,” he said.

Kit Bailey, Forest Service fire management officer for the Lake Tahoe Basin, expects to visit the school often as a parent and as a professional.

“We just want some alternatives and this is a great alternative the school district came up with,” he said.

The combination of a school two blocks from his house, the return of favorite teachers and the focus on science led Bailey to reenroll his second-grader and kindergartner at the magnet school.

It helps that Carson has an interest in science.

“He wants to have a (science-themed) bedroom,” Bailey said with a laugh. “Cracks me up.”

But for its focus on science and the return of school at the Meyers site, some things never change.

First-grader Baily Salmon said her favorite thing in the school day was “playing outside at recess.”

The school’s first parent-teacher association meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 5:45 p.m. in the school’s library.

– E-mail William Ferchland at