Playgrounds, pools and parks that were filled with carefree kids this summer began to empty out this week as Monadnock Region students went back to school with backpacks and lunchboxes in hand.
Though classes began today or Tuesday in most area schools, Fuller Elementary in Keene — like other schools across the region — was already a flurry of activity long before students walked through the doors this morning.
Teachers and staff could be seen flitting back and forth through the halls Monday, finishing up last-minute tasks like adding labels to backpack hooks, putting the final touches on their classrooms and photocopying materials for the first day. For area educators, preparations for a new school year start long before the week — or even the month — that classes begin, Fuller staff said.
“There’s so much [to do]. The summer really isn’t long enough, so I start preparing right at the end of the school year,”said Danielle Lawrence, a 4th-grade teacher there.
Despite the perception that teachers “get the summer off,” the summer break to-do list is long, teachers said, from organizing classroom supplies to getting to know new students to catching up on educational research.
For many, the summer months are also an important time for reflection and retooling lesson plans and classroom practices, several Fuller teachers said. Educators might attend conferences, participate in professional development opportunities and use social media to see what other teachers are doing in their classrooms.
“Last year was my first year here, so I’m doing a lot of, what didn’t work so well, what do I need to change?” said 3rd-grade teacher Anne Pinard. “And whether it’s just the arrangement of the classroom or, you know, a unit or a lesson that I want to just rethink — it’s always in the back of your head.”
And it doesn’t necessarily get easier the longer a teacher is in the field. Julie Shaffer, who also teaches 3rd grade at Fuller, is going into her 21st year of teaching, but she says her summer workload hasn’t diminished over that time. She said she actually begins some of her planning for the upcoming year just after April vacation.
“The curriculum might be the same, but the kids are different,” Shaffer said. “... You never really do the same thing the same way twice, because depending on what your audience is, you kind of tweak it and make it more personal to their needs.”
While teachers are technically required to begin work only a few days before the start of classes — teachers in the Keene School District are contracted to work 187 days a year, with one day set aside for “opening the classroom” — starting earlier is both a labor of necessity and love.
“Thinking back when we were kids how anxious and excited you were before school starts, we feel the same way. So if we didn’t have everything in place as a teacher and have that on our side walking in the first day — it just kind of takes a lot of weight off your shoulders,” said 5th-grade teacher Bridget Lundin. “And you can truly just be there for the kids, and you don’t have to worry about any of the stuff that’s behind the scenes.”
Sometimes that labor of love also includes putting their own money into the preparations. In New Hampshire, 94 percent of public school teachers spent their own money on classroom supplies for the 2006-07 school year, spending an average of $344, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
It’s difficult to put a number on the hours they spend getting ready for the new year before the first week hits, the teachers said. Some choose to come in eight hours a day to power through getting their classroom put together, while others might come in for a few hours here and there.
Regardless, teachers put in the time until the job is done — and the “back to school” dreams and pre-first-day jitters usually start around mid-July or August, they said.
“As a teacher, you don’t really work specific hours. Your contract is something, but that doesn’t meant that — the day doesn’t end just because the kids are gone,” Shaffer said. “So I think that as a teacher, the hours are whatever it needs to be to do the job to the best of your ability.”
“We’re here because we love it,” Lawrence added.
Seven months after her arrest on animal cruelty charges, the operator of a Langdon horse sanctuary faces a new charge alleging she altered a certificate of veterinary inspection.
Olexandra Beck, 63, was charged with obstructing government administration, a misdemeanor, last week in Sullivan County Superior Court.
The charge alleges that in August 2018, Beck changed the certificate to obscure a description of a horse being too thin.
State authorities later seized 26 horses from Beck’s operation, the St. Francis Farm Sanctuary & Rescue in Langdon, after the N.H. Department of Agriculture raised concerns that the animals had inadequate food, water and medical care, according to a police affidavit filed in district court in Claremont.
The seizures took place in November and January. In late January, N.H. State Police arrested Beck on four misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty. The charges allege she allowed nine horses in her custody to go without “necessary sustenance.”
Beck has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial on the cruelty charges in February. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.
St. Francis Farm Sanctuary & Rescue is registered with the N.H. Secretary of State’s Office as a nonprofit organization whose stated mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and re-home horses and other animals that have been abused, abandoned or given up.
The Department of Agriculture initiated its investigation into Beck last September, after a veterinarian reported that a certificate of veterinary inspection had been altered, according to the affidavit, written by State Police Detective Michael J. McLaughlin.
A certificate of veterinary inspection is a statement of an animal’s health. States require these certificates when a horse is brought in from elsewhere.
The veterinarian said she had noted in the certificate her concerns that a horse named Woody was underweight, according to McLaughlin’s affidavit.
A second complaint about Woody’s condition came from the Missouri facility that received the horse from Beck, McLaughlin wrote.
Beck’s livestock dealer license, required to transfer animals out of the state, had expired in 2016, according to the affidavit.
During the fall and winter, Beck kept animals at four properties in Langdon, according to the affidavit, including two Holden Hill Road addresses. The Department of Agriculture determined she had more than 45 animals, 26 of them horses, McLaughlin wrote. The others included poultry and at least one goat.
During a September inspection of the Holden Hill Road properties, department staff observed “very thin” horses that did not seem to have access to water, horses that had not been fed as of early afternoon and housing conditions that violated state regulations, according to the affidavit.
When department staff returned to one of the Holden Hill Road properties in November, they found Beck had largely failed to comply with their recommendations, McLaughlin wrote. The horses seemed thinner, and were overdue for veterinary and dental attention and care for their hooves, according to the affidavit. Several seemed in “dire”need of medical care, including two that were extremely thin and lethargic, McLaughlin wrote.
In addition, the barn and shelter “would not be adequate to protect this number of animals during winter,” McLaughlin wrote.
Later that month, according to the affidavit, a judge signed a search warrant authorizing state authorities to seize the nine animals that seemed in the poorest condition.
Animal-rescue organizations helped transport and care for the animals, State Police said in a news release earlier this year.
In December, McLaughlin wrote, two landowners who allowed Beck to keep horses at their properties in Langdon told the Department of Agriculture that they thought Beck was not giving the horses enough food or water.
According to the affidavit, a judge authorized the seizure of Beck’s remaining 17 horses in January.
The nine horses removed from her custody in November had all gained weight in that time, McLaughlin wrote.