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Teachers, staff at Sheppard Elementary prepare for new school year

Sheppard children head back to the classroom Monday as the 2006-2007 schoolyear begins. Jessica Ross, left, prepares a visual aid Tuesday morning to prepare her room for her first class. Vickie Henderson, right, will mentor the first-year teacher. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Ingle)

Sheppard children head back to the classroom Monday as the 2006-2007 schoolyear begins. Jessica Ross, left, prepares a visual aid Tuesday morning to prepare her room for her first class. Vickie Henderson, right, will mentor the first-year teacher. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Ingle)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Jessica Ross stared at the different teaching guides lying on a desk Tuesday morning, trying to decide where to put what. 

That's common for teachers preparing for the first day of school. But for this Sheppard Elementary School teacher, she's preparing for the first everything. 

"There's so many firsts I'm looking forward to," the school's newest first-grade teacher said. The Midwestern State University graduate's very first experience as a teacher begins Monday when she welcomes her first class. 

But, every teacher at the school is preparing for that first day of school, from Mrs. Ross all the way up to her experienced mentor, 19-year teaching veteran Vickie Henderson. 
Ms. Henderson said she'll provide assistance to Mrs. Ross throughout the year as part of the Wichita Falls Independent School District's mentoring program. 

"We were going over things she needs to know for that first week," Ms. Henderson said. 

Not only is the first day of school nerve-wracking for students, but also teachers. Ms. Henderson said that is why the district set up the mentoring program. 

"Mentoring is a program to help retain new teachers," she said. "A large percentage of them leave teaching within the first five years." 

Julia Allen, a teacher at the school for 18 years, said there is always room for improvement from year to year - even if the year before was outstanding. 

"Even with great years, you're always looking for a better year," she said. 

Principal Kim Meyer said the school almost reached "exemplary" status last year as a result of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test. She said they missed the mark by one student and they plan on improving. 

"We're all looking forward to this year," she said. "We all have very high expectations." 

Kandyce Weaver, a third-year teacher at Sheppard, said one of the biggest challenges in the classroom doesn't come from keeping students busy, rather it's to get the all on the same page. 

"My philosophy of teaching is I teach to the kid in the back row, the kid who looks bored," she said. "If I can engage them, everyone else follows." 

Another challenge teachers at Sheppard Elementary have to contend with is the steady change of faces in the classroom. Because the school is made up of students from military families, students tend to come and go because of moves. 

Mrs. Meyer said students, teachers and parents have to adapt to the surroundings and make the learning environment better for the kids. One way to do that, she said, is to form a network of parents at the school that can communicate with new families. 

"I think it helps talking to a parent (who has gone through the changes) instead of the principal," she said, adding the support network could also provide information about the surrounding area. 

The second-year principal is optimistic this year will be just as good as her first. 

"This staff is so cohesive and dedicated to our student's success," she said.
That march toward a successful year begins Monday ... when the first bell rings.