School districts get amped for new year at Back-to-School convocations

Students and staff members in the Topeka area got to celebrate the start of a new school year at a few back-to-school convocations.
Published: Aug. 4, 2022 at 5:35 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Students and staff members in the Topeka area got to celebrate the start of a new school year at a few back-to-school convocations.

On Thursday, August 4 both the Topeka Public Schools district and the Auburn-Washburn district hosted convocation pep rallies. USD 437′s convocation was hosted at the Washburn Rural High School gymnasium, while USD 501 celebrated at the Washburn University’s Lee Arena.

Teachers and staff members from both districts were greeted with welcome back signs and friendly banter with colleagues. USD 501 attendees were even greeted by members of the drumline from Topeka High, Topeka West, and Highland Park.

USD 501 Superintendent, Dr. Tiffany Anderson said it is great to have the event back in person this year. “It is like a big academic pep rally,” she said. “We have not had one in three years, so behind me you see cheerleaders, retired teachers, parents, just cheering people on and inside we have presentations from the students, [and] the color guard. This is an amazing year, so it kind of feels like returning from being gone literally for three years so we are excited.”

Dr. Anderson said they also used the pep rally to highlight new and returning teachers. A surprise video was even made of the new teachers to introduce them to the district and its students.

“As we are welcoming in new teachers and thanking them for joining the profession in one of the most difficult times in our many years in education, we will be thanking our veterans for hanging in there, for showing that nothing will stop them from reaching every child, for showing that they can overcome things people could not even imagine like a pandemic,” said Dr. Anderson. “So, we will be congratulating them, highlighting some of those veteran teachers since one of them is a finalist for teacher of the year, so we will be doing that as well and then we will also highlight some of our long-time administrators who just accomplished so many incredible things.”

USD 437 Superintendent, Scott McWilliams, also agreed that the pandemic added some unnecessary stress on students, families, and school staff members, but has a positive outlook for the new year.

“With the pandemic it has just been overly challenging, very long hours, learning different ways to teach and connect with kids, many times when they are not even in the classroom,” said McWilliams. “That has been a real struggle for all of us, a struggle for students, for families, for us as a staff, and at this point that is behind us, so we do not want to allow that to be an anchor any longer. We are looking forward to picking up momentum from today right now, a very positive mood, and we are looking forward to meeting the needs of kids moving forward for the 2022-2023 school year.”

McWilliams said right now the number of new staff hires is high with about 70 new members on the certified side, which includes teachers, psychologists, and counselors. When it comes to new students, he said, in recent years, the number of students in the district has gone down due to the pandemic, but hopes that the numbers will bounce back.

“For the last two years, we are down just 200 students,” said McWilliams. “Moving into this year, we hope that we get many of those students back as I have talked to families during the summertime. Many families have said ‘Hey, I think we are in a better spot now in regards to the pandemic. I am ready to go back to my home school.’ We will know a definite number by the September 20 count date in the state of Kansas, but we are very hopeful our numbers start increasing over the next couple of years and we get those families back.”

At the USD 437 convocation, special guest Dan Meers, who is the Chiefs mascot known as the KC Wolf, spoke to the staff and teachers about making a positive impact on the world no matter how many followers one has.

“We talk about social influencers and the impact, but you know, you do not have to have a million followers on social media. You do not have to have your own brand to influence others,” said Meers. “Every day each one of us whether you are a mascot, a teacher, or whatever you do for an occupation, you’ve got an opportunity to impact others’ lives.”

The first day of school for USD 437 will be Thursday, August 11, while USD 501 will kick-off the school year on August 10.

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