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TribLIVE follows Western Pennsylvania students as they head back to school

| Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, 8:39 a.m.
Tamara Allen, princpal, welcomes kindergarten students, Daiven Rice, Eliajah Gabriel Harris, and Noah Fielder, on their first day at Penn Hills Charter School for Entrepreneurship on Monday, August 28.  Lillian DeDomenic  |  For The Tribune Review
Tamara Allen, princpal, welcomes kindergarten students, Daiven Rice, Eliajah Gabriel Harris, and Noah Fielder, on their first day at Penn Hills Charter School for Entrepreneurship on Monday, August 28. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune Review
Students arrive early for the first day at the Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship on Monday, Aug. 28.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Students arrive early for the first day at the Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship on Monday, Aug. 28.
Kierre Simmons, 5, is excited on his first day of school at Penn Hills E,ementary on Monday, August 28. Kierre is entering the kindergarten this year.  Lillian DeDomenic  |  For The Tribune Review
Kierre Simmons, 5, is excited on his first day of school at Penn Hills E,ementary on Monday, August 28. Kierre is entering the kindergarten this year. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune Review
Tiffany McCauley walks with her daughter, Star, 7, to school on the first day at Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship on Monday, Aug. 28. Star is entering the second grade this year.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Tiffany McCauley walks with her daughter, Star, 7, to school on the first day at Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship on Monday, Aug. 28. Star is entering the second grade this year.
Parker Williams and her mom, Jessica, have been practicing getting up an hour earlier all week for the transition to Greater Latrobe Junior High.
Matt Santoni | Tribune-Review
Parker Williams and her mom, Jessica, have been practicing getting up an hour earlier all week for the transition to Greater Latrobe Junior High.
Natasha Lindstrom | Tribune-Review
Ian Hill, of Springdale, takes a family portrait on the front steps of the Acmetonia Primary School in Harmar on the first day of school for his children. Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Ian Hill, of Springdale, takes a family portrait on the front steps of the Acmetonia Primary School in Harmar on the first day of school for his children. Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Springdale Senior, Jozef Podmilsak, talks with his seventh period Economic's teacher Wendi Hegedus, of his schedule change as he heads to his fist period class on the first day of school.Monday August 28, 2017.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Springdale Senior, Jozef Podmilsak, talks with his seventh period Economic's teacher Wendi Hegedus, of his schedule change as he heads to his fist period class on the first day of school.Monday August 28, 2017.
First-grader Balan Mundok eagerly goes about his work on his first day of school at Acmetonia Primary School in Harmar. Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
First-grader Balan Mundok eagerly goes about his work on his first day of school at Acmetonia Primary School in Harmar. Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Springdale students report to school on the first day.Monday August 28, 2017.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune -Review
Springdale students report to school on the first day.Monday August 28, 2017.
Acmetonia Primary School first-grade teacher Michelle Jackson meets her students for the first time on the first day of school. Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Acmetonia Primary School first-grade teacher Michelle Jackson meets her students for the first time on the first day of school. Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Freshman Shawn Garufi (left), 14, and senior James Blystone, 17, brows3 their phones while waiting for the bus, during the first day of school, in Hempfield Township, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Freshman Shawn Garufi (left), 14, and senior James Blystone, 17, brows3 their phones while waiting for the bus, during the first day of school, in Hempfield Township, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Students step onto the bus just before 7am, during the first day of school in Hempfield Township, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Students step onto the bus just before 7am, during the first day of school in Hempfield Township, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Students line up outside the Hempfield Area High School, as summer break comes to an end, during the first day of classes, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Students line up outside the Hempfield Area High School, as summer break comes to an end, during the first day of classes, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Veronica Wisegarver (left), 17, hugs her friend Trina, during the first day of school, at Hempfield Area Senior High School, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Veronica Wisegarver (left), 17, hugs her friend Trina, during the first day of school, at Hempfield Area Senior High School, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Drew Hauser (left), 11, waits for the bus with friends Christian Czarnecki, 12, Ben Podolinski, 12, and Cole Williams, 12, as they head to their first day of seventh grade, at Hempfield Area's Wendover Middle School, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Drew Hauser (left), 11, waits for the bus with friends Christian Czarnecki, 12, Ben Podolinski, 12, and Cole Williams, 12, as they head to their first day of seventh grade, at Hempfield Area's Wendover Middle School, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
David Reese, 8, and his sister Angelina, 9, shoot hoops while waiting for their bus to take them to West Point Elementary School, during the first day of class, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
David Reese, 8, and his sister Angelina, 9, shoot hoops while waiting for their bus to take them to West Point Elementary School, during the first day of class, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Fourth grader Madilyn Paterno, 9, dances while waiting for their bus to take them to West Point Elementary School, during the first day of class, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Fourth grader Madilyn Paterno, 9, dances while waiting for their bus to take them to West Point Elementary School, during the first day of class, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Sophia Pacale, 5, stands with her mom, as she prepares to head into her first day of Kindergarten at Fort Allen Elementary School, in Hempfield Township, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Sophia Pacale, 5, stands with her mom, as she prepares to head into her first day of Kindergarten at Fort Allen Elementary School, in Hempfield Township, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Kelly Perkins hugs her daughter Ayla, 6, during the first day as she prepares to head into her first day of Kindergarten at Fort Allen Elementary School, in Hempfield Township, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Kelly Perkins hugs her daughter Ayla, 6, during the first day as she prepares to head into her first day of Kindergarten at Fort Allen Elementary School, in Hempfield Township, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.

Schools across Western Pennsylvania were back in action Monday morning, and TribLIVE reporters were out at the bus stops and at schools chronicling students' return to the classroom. Follow below for live updates.

We're looking for your photos. Send us your back to school photo for our online gallery: Email multimedia@tribweb.com


Greater Latrobe

Transitions were on a lot of minds in the Greater Latrobe Area School District, as some elementary students began their last year at the old Latrobe Elementary School, while incoming high school freshmen and seventh-grade students began mentorship programs designed to ease their move into new schools.

The district is in the process of replacing one of its three elementary schools, with this year likely the last for students in the current Latrobe Elementary building on Ligonier Street. That might make some experiences for students a little bittersweet, said Leanne Gessler, president of the school's Parent-Teacher Organization.

"Everything is going to be 'the last year' we'll do it in this school," she said. At Greater Latrobe Area High School, most students in grades 10-12 got an extra day off, since Monday was only the first day for incoming ninth-graders and about 80 juniors and seniors in a new mentoring program called the Link Crew.

"When you look at different transitions, ninth grade is such a pivotal year," said 11th- and 12th-grade Principal Jon Mains.

The school's class of about 365 incoming freshmen will be divided into groups and assigned to 80 juniors and seniors who will offer scheduled tutoring, mentoring and peer guidance. The program will also include social events like a tailgate party for the district's first home football game at Latrobe Memorial Stadium, Mains said.

Last year, administrators at the high school approached rising juniors and seniors active in a wide range of activities, from chorus and band to sports and career programs, to start interviewing them and training them to be mentors for the Link program, said ninth-grade guidance counselor Susan Kuhn.

After a pep-rally style entrance and some large-group activities in the gym, the class broke down into their smaller groups to get to know one another and their mentors for the rest of the year. Later in the day, they would do a tour of their new school, complete with costumes chosen by their small-group leaders, and a run-through of their class schedule to learn where things were and meet their teachers.

- Matthew Santoni


Pittsburgh

Silent tears streamed down Kazmuniah McCall's face as the 5-year-old girl clutched her father along a bustling section of Penn Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh.

With her lips puckered into a fearful grimace, Kazmuniah clearly wasn't ready to say goodbye and head inside Urban Pathways charter school for her first day of kindergarten.

"It's going to be a good day, OK? Mommy's going to meet you at the bus stop, and you can tell Mommy all about your day, OK?" Shawn McCall of McKees Rocks, reassured his daughter, dressed in a neatly pressed, white collared shirt, navy-blue pleated skirt and matching blazer.

She nodded slowly. A bright pink backpack hung from her shoulders, the back displaying a cartoon kitten dressed as a cowgirl with the phrase, "Howdy, friend!"

McCall noted it was a tough day for him, too. He's hoping that his child will learn to play nicely with peers and make plenty of friends during the 2017-18 academic year, which kicked off Monday for thousands of students across greater Pittsburgh.

"We're back in session!" shouted a teenage girl as she and a dozen other students walked along Ninth Street toward the entrance to Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School, a Pittsburgh Public Schools magnet school with a focus on the arts that has more than 800 students in grades 6-12.

"Are you guys ready for day one?" a staff greeter called out as another busload of children filed through the metal detectors and Kedren Taylor, 11, hung back so his grandfather could take his photo.

Kedren's parents chose CAPA because Kedren wants to explore being an artist and to study photography like his grandpa. Several of his family members attended the school, including his older sister who's now enrolled at La Roche College on a Pittsburgh Promise scholarship.

"It's kind of like a family tradition, but it also is an opportunity for him to excel," said his grandfather, Keith Taylor, 63.

On Sunday night, the last day of summer, the pair hung out at a jazz concert at Highland Park featuring CAPA alumni and a jazz bassist who's also a CAPA teacher. Keith Taylor said he hopes their success stories will inspire his grandson, who didn't seem to suffer from first-day jitters.

"He's a pretty good getter-upper," Keith Taylor said with a chuckle.

Urban Pathways K-5 Principal Kim Fitzgerald said that her teachers keep an eye out for children who appear emotional during parent drop-off — especially first-timers.

"Actually, it's harder on the parents than it is the kids, because once the kids get in and sit down and start doing stuff, they're fine," Fitzgerald said as she welcomed students on a Downtown sidewalk. "What the teachers will do, is they see who has the tears and we'll make a quick call to the parent and say, 'Hey, they're doing OK.'"

An aspect that sets charter schools like Urban Pathways apart from traditional neighborhood public schools is that its students hail from all over the region, with enrollment spanning families from Pittsburgh's East End, West End, North Side, South Side as well as suburban towns in the North and South hills.

"The challenge is building a community when you're coming from so many diverse neighborhoods," said Fitzgerald, "but it's really unique in that the families find what's the same and you can build from that."

To cultivate unity, the school of about 250 K-5 and 350 6-12 students encourages families to come together for a variety of cultural and educational events, Fitzgerald said. The school also takes advantage of its Downtown location to enable students to experience the likes of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, black history art galleries and the National Aviary.

A few minutes later, 5-year-old LeAsia Davis-Beck came strutting toward Urban Pathway's entrance donning a turquoise-and-pink backpack, pearl earrings and leopard overcoat.

Wide-eyed LeAsia was short on words but seemingly could not stop grinning.

"She's just so smiley. She's so excited," said her mom, Katie Davis, of the South Side.

Kate Davis said she chose to send LeAsia to Urban Pathways over a neighborhood school because she likes the charter school's more structured environment and smaller class sizes.

Just across the street, on the other side of Penn Avenue, 11-year-old Jeremiah Clark posed for a photo while his mom and grandmother escorted him into Urban Pathway's 6-12 campus.

Jeremiah said he was feeling a little nervous about making new friends in the sixth grade on his first day at a new school. His favorite subject is math, but he said he was most looking forward to gym class.

He admitted he wasn't as eager to get back into the classroom as the likes of smiley, first-time kindergartner LeAsia.

"I'm bummed summer's over," he said.

- Natasha Lindstrom


Hempfield

Hempfield Area High School

Some seniors at Hempfield Area High School are already looking forward to graduation and thinking about what might come next.

"I just want to get the school year over with, so I can move on," said senior Veronica Wisegarver, 17. "But I'm not ready to grow up yet."

Her classmate, Zoey Hoak, 17, is also looking ahead to life after high school and has already started trying to figure out "how to adult."

Learning how to manage her money and budgeting to pay for expenses like food and laundry are skills she knows she'll need in the next stage of life.

The high school will be offering a new course this year to help students prepare for adulthood.

Among the new programs at the high school this school year is a financial literacy course that will be required for all ninth graders, according to Principal Kathleen Charlton.

The school will also be implementing a new reading program to help students develop stronger critical thinking and problem solving skills.

"It's the idea of learning to think about how you learn," Charlton said, adding that these skills will help students become more confident, independent learners.

- Jamie Martines

Hempfield Fort Allen Elementary School

The Fort Allen Elementary School, one of Hempfield's five elementary schools, welcomed 75 new kindergarten students Monday.

Parents lined up with their students for orientation, enjoying the final moments before their children were off to class.

"It's definitely a scary world right now," said parent Amber Geary. "It's definitely hard sending her off into it."

Geary said she's both excited and sad to send her daughter, Piper Geary, 5, off to kindergarten.

"There are so many things I want her to learn, and to be kind and open minded," Geary said.

Several parents mentioned that they hope their children learn life skills that will help them years from now, in the real world.

Parent Stacey Kirkwood said that she hopes her daughter, Shayn Kirkwood, 5, will learn teamwork.

"Working with other people, being kind to other people," she said of the skills she hopes her daughter will build.

"I think I want him to be compassionate towards others," said parent Stacey Barrick-Shaner.

Her son, Lucas Shaner, 5, is thrilled to be starting kindergarten. He already has a few friends and is looking forward to science class.

- Jamie Martines


Allegheny Valley

Excitement seemed to outweigh nerves as students returned to school in the Allegheny Valley School District Monday.

"I'm excited about finishing it out and getting it all done," said senior Melissa Allen, 17. "I'm nervous because there's a lot of things that come with being a senior—like I have to get accepted to a college."

The small district of 912 students serves Cheswick and Springdale boroughs and Harmar and Springdale townships.

Seniors filed into the parking lot just after 7 a.m. at Springdale Junior-Senior High School blasting music and carrying their Dunkin Donuts coffees, ready to tackle their final year of high school.

"I'm just excited to see everybody and see everybody figure out their lives and do well," said senior Alicia Matthews, 18.

High school social studies teacher Leonard Herrington said he tries to treat the seniors as adults to prepare them for life after high school.

Many of them are working and going to school," he said. "Some are already taking college classes."

When it comes to current events, he tries to keep a neutral opinion while also making sure the students know how events in the world may affect them.

"I try to teach them enough where they can make those kinds of decisions, politically, on their own," he said. "I want them to be aware of what I'm talking about, as far as social studies in the classroom, is real beyond these four walls."

Parent Meagan Meighen had children going into first and third grade today.

"It's always fun because I know they're excited," she said of the first day.

Meighen said school is a lot different from when she went and worries about bullying among the students.

"I'd say now there's a lot more to worry about," she said. "My son actually had an episode with (bullying) last year."

First grade teacher Michelle Jackson said she strives to make her classroom a welcoming environment for her young students and tries to put their worries at easy on day one.

She said the hardest part about the first day of school is not knowing the individual needs of her students since she's meeting them for the first time.

"They're little and they have anxiety, which I do, too," she said. "I just try to make it a welcoming place to be, a fun place, a safe place."

Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680, emilybalser@tribweb.com or on Twitter @emilybalser.


Penn Hills

Jordyn Ford, 16, came to Penn Hills High School in the middle of her 10th grade year from The Neighborhood Academy, a private school in Stanton Heights. In her short tenure, she managed to make many friends, she said, and became the class president. In this role, she hopes to inspire more students to volunteer at school and in the community.

"With everything going on in the high school, it'd be good to open up and help others," she said, referring to two high school students who perished last school year. Ford said she was friends with both Donovan Baynes and Deven Holloway who died.

Baynes, 17, died in a January car crash. Holloway, 16, was shot to death near Linton Middle School in March.

"We need to get together and just do something to make the school not have such a bad name," Ford said.

The senior plans on attending the University of Pittsburgh in Johnstown next fall to pursue a degree in either nursing or communications. She said she feels like her time at Penn Hills High School has prepared her for life beyond the red and gold halls.

So does Christina Marra, 18, who has been a student in the district since kindergarten.

"I pretty much learned everything that I should have and think I'm ready," she said. Marra, who will be attending the high school for a half-day to get a head-start on general classes at Community College of Allegheny County, hopes to attend the University of Pittsburgh for dental hygiene next fall.

She said she is sad to leave friends behind, but is hopeful those close friends will stay in touch. And as far as her thoughts heading into an uncertain world, more optimism shows.

"It is kind of hard to watch the news and see everything that's going on. But students my age need to step up and make sure this doesn't continue, to help out in the world and keep it peaceful. The future is ours," Marra said.

- Dillon Carr

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