The Wide Angle: The first day of school — of course it was a party

Published 7:04 am Saturday, September 8, 2018

Tuesday was the first day of school for Austin Public Schools and as is photographic tradition, I picked a school and photographed the students as they came back to the classrooms.

This year I picked Ellis Middle School, which is a departure from the usual stops at one of the elementary schools or Woodson Kindergarten. There is a cute factor with the younger kids that I know will appeal to readers — especially the parents.

The youngsters range in emotion from excited to see their friends and teachers to, “Oh my God why am I in this place and who are these people?”

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Heck, there are times where I still say, “Oh my God, why am I in this place and who are these people?” But more often than not it’s the default setting to adulthood. Don’t worry kids, you’ll be there some day.

The teachers always do their best to welcome the younger students back, make them feel comfortable and in the end a vast majority of them will settle in for a magnificent school year.

But this year, I had an inside source that told me that Ellis would be doing something special. Of course, that inside source was new principal Jessica Cabeen, a familiar face in the halls of Woodson where she has been the principal for a number of years.

The plans for welcoming the students were bombastic in that there would be a DJ playing music in the form of Bill Spitzer, director of APAC and there would be dancing.

I’m sort of a skeptical person about a lot of things in life — except aliens. There are absolutely aliens and we should all be Team Insectoid. The Reptilians are dangerous.

I’ve seen Cabeen’s methods in action often at Woodson and the five-year-olds loved it. They were always excited to be a part of Mrs. Cabeen and what she was doing.

I can admit, it was always exciting to be at Woodson, but I had my doubts about middle schoolers.

Are middle schoolers excited about anything?

Middle school-aged students are at an interesting nexus of life. They are bombastic, energetic and showing the first signs of who they will become. I know, I was one once. In a lot of ways I still am.

Looking back to my own days as a middle-schooler, I probably got on the nerves of most everybody. I can say that I was not at all excited to be at the first day of school.

At that age, for me anyway, school was establishment and order inflicted on me after a summer of freedom and doing pretty much what I wanted. That first day back in those halls of learning was a like a march back to prison.

So yes, I had my doubts that this new welcome back, that included teachers out front, dancing and high-fiving students. I thought, “Is a dance party really the way students will want to be welcomed back?”

A few things on that, I’m not a dancer so probably that’s a default question for me. I don’t dance. I appear to have the extreme shivers after being out in the cold with no coat.

Jamie Beyer hugs Ellis Middle School principal Jessica Cabeen as she comes to Ellis Middle School for the first day of school Tuesday. Eric Johnson/

But it wasn’t for me anyway. Nobody is going to set up a dance party for me and let’s be honest, it would be weird if they did.

Part of me being there was two-part. I was of course, curious and I will never discount the convenience of living across the street from something I need to photograph.

But mostly it was curiosity about how the students would receive this kind of welcome.

I can admit, it was entertaining. A lot of the faces reflected a general feeling of, “What is this?” The skepticism was there, combined with smirks of disbelief.

But it was combined with genuine smiles and laughter and yes, while Cabeen and teachers partied on a rain-soaked Tuesday morning, I found more often than not students joined in willingly to the party and accepted the fun for what it was.

Yes, school is back in session and yes, the buses will clog up the road in front of our house twice a day, compounded by parents dropping their students off and picking them up.

Yes, I will lose parking out front of the house and from the window of my home I will watch the students walk into Ellis as I get ready for my own day, no doubt asking myself, “What are they doing?”

Seriously, though, it was a great way to welcome the students back and it gets them fired up to learn and really if we need anything these days — it’s education.