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New school year means excitement for students, teachers

Staff Photo: John Bohn Lillian Carrasco teaches a Spanish language class to kindergarteners at Level Creek Elementary School in Suwanee. This is the first week of  the new school year.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Lillian Carrasco teaches a Spanish language class to kindergarteners at Level Creek Elementary School in Suwanee. This is the first week of the new school year.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Fifth-grade student Fiona Matthee works on a computer in the media center at Level Creek Elementary School in Suwanee. This is the first week of classes of the new school year.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Lillian Carrasco, right, teaches a Spanish language class to a kindergartners at Level Creek Elementary School in Suwanee. Students from left are, Kelsey Stephenson, Luc Montreuil and Orrin Mynes.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Gavin Smith bites into a slice of water mellon during lunch period at Level Creek Elementary School in Suwanee. Smith is a second-grade student.

SUWANEE -- The end of the summer proved to be eventful for Lillian Carrasco.

A family vacation to West Virginia was soured by car trouble that caused her to roll back into town about 4 a.m. the morning of the North Gwinnett cluster breakfast nearly two weeks ago. Then on the day before the school year began on Monday, Carrasco was at school -- with about 20 colleagues -- hanging vocabulary words on walls.

It was not difficult to see how much Carrasco, a Spanish teacher at Level Creek Elementary, looked forward to another school year.

"That's dedication," Level Creek Principal Nancy Kiel said.

Added Carrasco, "I'm just excited about this year. I love teaching Spanish, I love what I do, it's such a blessing to me, and that I get to see all of the kids."

Carrasco was especially bubbly when she explained the community theme for her classroom this year, and how vocabulary words would be hung in the hallway outside so students could be reminded of them as much as possible.

"There's always more you want to do," she said. "They're always active, always learning."

As she greeted students in the hallway on Monday, Carrasco vowed to repeatedly ask them, "Como te llama?" to check if they grasped the Spanish translation of "What is your name?"

"I'll remind them to see who remembers and who needs to go over that again," she said.

For Gwinnett County Public School teachers like Carrasco, Monday was filled with excitement and anticipation for a new school year. Students that ranged from kindergarteners -- whose parents struggled to say goodbye -- to high school freshmen were each wide eyed at the prospect of new surroundings.

Carrasco told a story of her son, now in high school, who as a Level Creek student was afraid to walk down the hall with fifth-graders, who he thought were teenagers.

Eventually, the family atmosphere that Carrasco said Level Creek exhibits helps ease the transition for students coming back, or starting for the first time.

"We see the kids a lot of times more than their families, this is like a second home," she said. "To me, Level Creek is a family. I look forward to meeting the students, but the teachers, my peers, as well, it's a family atmosphere."

Fifth-grader Fiona Matthee, whose family moved from Germany about a year and a half ago, spent most of her summer in Germany with her extended family. For Matthee, whose family primarily speaks German at home, being back at Level Creek was an exciting time.

"I'm looking forward to seeing all the teachers again, and my friends," she said. "And have fun together learning."

Matthee has improved her English skills immensely since third grade, Kiel said, which is a testament to the school's environment that helps to cross language barriers.

"It's easier because I have friends who can help me, and at recess I can play with them, or at lunch I can talk to them, and if I don't understand something they can help me," said Matthee, who added that music is her favorite subject, and she likes to sing and play the recorder.

North Gwinnett High Principal Ed Shaddix didn't get up any earlier on the first day of the new school year than normal. Shaddix said he gets to North at 5:30 a.m. each morning because that's about the only time the phone isn't ringing.

Working first-week kinks wasn't as much of an issue because of planning that students, teachers and administrators did throughout the summer, Shaddix said. Some teachers were at North for 12 hours for the Super Thursday event a week and a half ago, which acts as a catch-all orientation event where students and parents meet teachers, and lockers, parking assignments and lunches are paid for or picked up.

That's why when Shaddix sat down at his desk shortly after the first period bell at 7:10 a.m. on Monday, he said the first morning was "pretty seamless."

North assistant principal Brad Siegfried said the school's administrators met with incoming freshmen during the first 20 minutes of their hour-long lunch to explain to the ninth graders what's expected of them and to help them become acclimated.

Siegfried said about 400 of the 600 or so freshmen attended the school's "Expectations 101" class in late July, which is a sort of preliminary orientation when the students can walk their schedule of classes and otherwise acquaint themselves with school.

Siegfried said he expected the freshmen to be "in their groove" by the end of their first week.

"They come in a little apprehensive, a little scared," Shaddix said of the ninth-graders. "But you get them in class and they get into the swing of things. In three weeks, they'll think they own the place."

The new senior class has a daunting task ahead of them if they want to match or exceed the accolades of the 2012 senior class, which was the most accomplished academically and athletically in school history.

"We've kind of challenged them that we're going to need their leadership, and for them to step up and lead the rest of this school," Shaddix said of the new seniors. "They always rise up and do a good job. It's a good group of kids. There's a group of them that are very, very strong leaders."