Back to school for Ely students
by Tom Coombe
Armed with new backpacks and outfits, students swarmed into Ely’s school buildings Tuesday as the 2023-24 school year began.
School busses filled one circle while a line of vehicles was present in another, as new and returning students came back to the campus.
Initial enrollment totals aren’t quite as rosy as appeared a month ago, as the impact of a 19-student incoming kindergarten class has taken its toll on overall enrollment numbers.
As of Tuesday, there were 529 students enrolled in grades K-12 in the Ely school system.
That’s down 16 from a year ago, and seven from the end of the 2022-23 school year.
The silver lining for those looking at the enrollment numbers is that the small kindergarten group - likely the smallest in district history - is an anomaly. About 40 students are anticipated in next fall’s kindergarten class.
The school year comes with some significant changes, most notably a free lunch program authorized by state legislation.
All students may now eat lunch for free, and it appears the program will be popular.
“It’s a little too early to tell, but it seems like more students are getting lunch at the school,” said superintendent Anne Oelke, who is also elementary principal. “ A few more weeks and we should be able to tell.”
Oelke and high school principal Jeff Carey greeted students as they arrived and departed this week and supervised the cafeteria as the school year got underway.
Another change this year is a 2 p.m. dismissal each Wednesday, which will allow more time for teachers to collaborate and prepare.
And while school gets out early on Wednesdays, dozens of students are planning to stay as late as 5:30 p.m. each day to take part in the Wolf Pack Afterschool Program.
Launched in 2022-23 with the aid of Covid-19 funding, the program moves under the umbrella of community education this fall and a partnership with Ely Community Resource,
Students who participate tay after school for an array of after-school activities.
“ECR staffs the program and provides students time to work on their homework, practice reading, participate in fun learning activities, have snack, and play outside or in the gym,” said Oelke.
About 55 participants were involved in 2022-23, although this year’s program is fee-based.