| As the first day of school unfolded Monday at Mountain View High School, some of the nearly 1,750 students may have asked themselves why they were back so early.
The not-so-simple answer: Several years ago the high schools moved first-semester exams to before the winter break, allowing students and families to enjoy the break instead of worrying about finals. The move caused the second semester to run longer.
This year, the district started school earlier to equalize the number of instructional days between the two semesters. So Mountain View and Los Altos high schools started a week earlier for the 3,400 students who, equipped with back packs and cell phones, chatted with each other as they lugged text books and musical instruments. The students will finish second semester one week earlier too.
Mountain View Whisman schools also ushered in 4,300 students on Tuesday, a few days earlier compared to last year, said Mary Lairon, associate superintendent.
At Landels Elementary School, lines of first graders crisscrossed with third graders as students marched around the playground following their teachers. The school gathered around a circle to listen to the principal and sing the school song.
"I'm proud to be a Landels lion," they sang, "It's great to be a Landels lion. ... Every kid and every teacher, all of us together, Landels is the place for me."
The children looked happy to be back at school.
"I want to be in this school forever. I want to be in the first grade forever," said Sylvia, a first grader.
At Mountain View High, students had more conflicted feelings about returning to school -- mostly because they knew they would also have to return to homework.
"It's bittersweet," Stephanie Yanaga, 15, said about her first day back as a sophomore. "It's nice to see everyone again, but then I have to go to class. I have to work now and use my brain," she said.
"You have to wake up early, that's the worst part," said Priscilla Purro, 15. During the summer, she said, she got used to waking up in the afternoon.
"You start off to a new year, meet new people and get to hang out with friends," Serenna Amador, 15, said as she held two thick books.
Back at at Landels, fifth grader Zoe pensively wrote three rules in her notebook on her first day of school Tuesday.
"Don't throw water. Don't throw rocks. Don't interrupt when other people are talking."
Another student wrote: "Don't sneak out of the classroom."
She and 29 classmates sat in groups of six and read their self-written rules out loud. Their teacher, Pam Allan, directed the class as the students interacted.
"The idea of the rules is this is going to help us be a good learner," she said to her class. "Think back to your second grade," she said. "Some of you have some good rules," she added.
Tuesday's class was Allan's first time implementing Continuous Improvement, Mountain View Whisman's new educational approach. About 80 percent of the teachers at Landels began using CI this year, Principal Phyllis Rodgers said.
Students in Allan's class eagerly raised their hands and stood up in front of the class to present their group's rules.
"It's cool to make your own rules, but then you have to go by the rules that you make," Isabella Wenneberg, 9, said. She had done her own rule-making before, she said.
"One time I had to make up a game in five minutes," she said. "It was at a birthday party."
Allan called the notion of students making their own rules "the affinity design." Eventually, she said, the students collectively will choose their top eight most important rules. Allan said she can't arbitrarily throw out rules -- such as no sneaking out of the classroom -- but she and her class will discuss whether one rule may be more important than another. By consensus, the students will then select the most important rules, Allan said.
She also plans to convert the rules into more positive affirmations, such as "be respectful" and "share with your friends," she said.
After the students choose their most important rules, Allan, two additional fifth grade teachers, and the principal will consolidate the rules from all fifth grade classes and make a master ground rules list, she said.
The students then promise to abide by the rules by signing their names to them.
"They have a say in the choice of the rule and have a say in ranking them. These are rules that help me be a learner," Allan said.
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