|Click Photo to Enlarge
Mooseheart eighth grader Caitlynn Frandin hugs a classmate on Monday, Aug. 20, prior to the start of the school's first day of classes.
Mooseheart staff greet students with handshakes throughout the year as they enter the school building, but the first day of school is always a special day for those greetings. High school freshman Bryce Chapline (right) shakes hands with Dean of Students Michaela Ahrens.
Mooseheart's elementary students will be working with a daily phrase through this school year. On the first day of classes, from left, Erick Lopez, Ryan Perry and Andrue Cunningham displayed the phrase, which was: Do Your Best
Fourth-grader Alyssa Perry was ready to put her school supplies into her desk on Aug. 20, the first day of classes at Mooseheart.
Among staff changes at Mooseheart for 2012-13, Jen Antonson (left) has returned to the classroom from her former role as the school's Computer Education teacher. Antonson is now the third and fourth-grade teacher, where she has Natalie Pineda (middle) and Amber Hayden as students.
MOOSEHEART, Aug. 20 - Handshakes and hugs were prominent in the hallways of Mooseheart's school building on Monday, Aug. 20, as the campus' students returned to start the 2012-13 school year.
This year is the 100th school year at the Child City; it will conclude in late-May 2013 with a Commencement that will constitute a preliminary celebration of the campus' Centennial.
And, this 100th school year started as it has for many years at Mooseheart -- with school staff, led by Superintendent of Education Gary Urwiler, shaking hands with students as they entered the building. Students, many of whom have been hundreds of miles apart through summer visits to their families, greeted each other warmly, many with hugs.
"it is a really nice when they come in - they definitely want to see each other," Urwiler said. "That's the staff included in that too. But the kids want to talk to you, share their smiles and catch up with you."
Some of that comes from the very foundations of the school and the campus as having been built by the Moose fraternity. The Moose stress family togetherness, and for nearly 100 years have set Mooseheart as a place where children in-need could get the home and the education necessary to give them a fresh start in life.
"When you're Moose-affiliated, you may go and not see someone for five years but when you do see them, you pick up where you left off," Urwiler said. "I don't know where that comes from. Maybe it's God's way of blessing us as Moose. But it is a unique thing with both the Moose and Mooseheart."
Within a few minutes of the 8 a.m. bell, though, the hallways were empty, the hum of teachers and students conversing in classrooms was the dominant sound, and the school year was off to a smooth-running start.
"No matter what happened with a student last year, this is a fresh start," Urwiler said. "I think the maturity level of our students improves through the summer -- and maybe a student will come back with a whole new set of goals and ideals as to what they want to accomplish."
This is a busy week as well. Tuesday at 6 p.m., the campus is hosting a "Back to School Bash" at the KaBOOM! playground in the central portion of the campus, where there will be much good food, a chance for all to get energized about the school year, and recognition of substantial donations of backpacks, school supplies and books by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The week continues on Thursday with the school's volleyball season-opener, a 6:30 p.m. home match with area power Hinckley-Big Rock. Mooseheart's football team kicks off its 2012 season on Saturday with a 1 p.m. contest at Alden-Hebron.
"It's exciting and I would much rather start it that way than to sit back and wait for things to happen," Urwiler said.
This school year brings a number of changes to the Mooseheart building. First, there are always new students. Sixteen students graduated in May. New admissions have filled those spaces while others have left Mooseheart for the summer and have opted to stay with their families and guardians.
On the opening day of school this year, there are 200 students at Mooseheart School, 117 boys and 83 girls. There are six children in pre-kindergarten, 48 in the elementary classrooms, 39 middle schoolers and 107 high school students. The Class of 2013, the 95th graduating class from Mooseheart, consists of 31 students as of the first day of the school year.
New students are just part of the changing equation at Mooseheart. There are six new teachers on-staff and a seventh has taken a new role leaving one opening yet to be filled. Among the newcomers are Elementary Physical Education and Health teacher Justin Drennan; Biology and Math teacher Marie Ryan; Social Studies teacher Melissa Maloney; English Language Learner/English as a Second Language (ELL/ESL) teacher Karah Thomas (the first teacher so designated at Mooseheart); Spanish teacher Gary Ward and substitute-tutor Rebecca Haske.
Additionally, veteran Mooseheart teacher Jen Antonson has returned to the classroom after serving as the school's Computer Education teacher. Antonson is the school's third- and fourth-grade teacher this year.
"We've got a nice mix of new staff that have joined us this year," Urwiler said. "We're very impressed with them and happy to have them as a part of our faculty."
This is a special year at Mooseheart. Commencement in 2013 will coincide with the Moose International Convention in Milwaukee, WI -- and the campus' Centennial celebrations will begin in full swing at that point.
"I think that's our job, along with (Mooseheart) Executive Director Scott Hart and the Centennial Committee, led by (1984 Mooseheart graduate) Mark Penzkover, our job is to build that enthusiasm," Urwiler said. "We want to build that month after month and to keep that at the forefront. It is truly a remarkable thing to have a 100th-year celebration. We need to not only celebrate that as adults, but we need to celebrate that with the children."
Preparations for the Centennial notwithstanding, there are a number of events planned through the school year. Urwiler said that in October, the school will present its second annual anti-bullying program. Among the features of this year's program will be a pair of lectures by anti-bullying expert Cary Trivanovich. Further anti-bullying workshops are planned for later in the school year.
Other highlights to the school year include a Cultural Awareness series of activities planned in February, a Career Day in March, a Health and Safety Fair in April.
Since its founding, Mooseheart has operated a complete, accredited kindergarten-through-high-school academic program, plus art, music, vocational training and interscholastic sports. It is an extremely nurturing and student-tailored program, with an average student-teacher ratio of 12-1.
Mooseheart students who complete their studies with a 3.0 GPA or better (4.0=A) are eligible for up to five years of annually renewable scholarship funding, covering tuition, room and board in an amount comparable to that required for an in-state student at an Illinois public university.
Mooseheart is currently home to roughly 220 students, ranging in age from preschoolers to high school seniors. Applications for admission to Mooseheart are considered from any family whose children are, for whatever reason, lacking a stable home environment. Mooseheart boasts its own U.S. Post Office and a fully functioning branch of Fifth Third Bank.
In addition to Mooseheart, Moose International also supports Moosehaven, a 70-acre retirement community near Jacksonville, FL founded in 1922 (and celebrating its 90th anniversary this October); and conducts more than $70 million worth of community service programs annually.