Written By Anne Blue
On the first day of school last year, the Twery family let their dog, Sammy, out into the yard. Usually she stays in the yard, but on that busy morning the collar that keeps her inside her electric fence wasn’t working and she bolted away. Soon all four Twery boys were chasing Sammy around their Finksburg neighborhood.
“We are an athletic family, so we are all fast,” said Ben, age 11. “But Sammy is faster.”
The boys finally caught their dog that morning and made it to the school bus on time, but as eight-year-old Alex says, “It’s a good thing our mom makes us get up an hour early on the first day of school.”
Rising an hour early on the first day, donning new outfits and new shoes, taking photos with new backpacks slung over their shoulders; these are just a few of the Twery family’s back to school rituals. Like many families around Carroll County, they have watched the first day of school inch closer with mixed emotions. As the days of summer fall away, parents, children, and teachers turn their thoughts to the coming school year and the joys and jitters of a new beginning.
Ben Twery will start sixth grade, joining his older brother, Joshua, at Shiloh Middle School while their youngest brother, Michael, will begin kindergarten at Sandymount Elementary School, joining Alex who will be starting third grade. “There is a little bit of stress in wondering what the next school year will bring,” said Tina Twery, mother of the four boys.
“I love the lack of structure in summer, so we put off all the school shopping until later in August” she said.” We try not to use the ÔS word’ [school] until after August 15. But we love it once [the school year] is here again.”
“New beginnings can be stressful to children, as well as their parents,” said Lynn Davis, licensed therapist and Executive Director of the Carroll County Youth Service Bureau.
She ticks off a list of typical fears: a new school; new teachers; the bus; school safety; leaving Mom, Dad or caregiver; the demands of school work, making friends, etc.
Davis noted that although some children are able to talk through their fears, others cannot. The latter may experience headaches, stomachaches, talk incessantly about fears, become irritable, or have sleepless nights.
“Our children pick up on our concerns,” said Davis. “So when talking about the new school year, it is important to focus on the positive.”
Sykesville parent and working mother, Ingrid Hiltz, said her three children look forward to “a new beginning, new teachers, new challenges, and a new soccer season.” Matthew Hiltz will be an eighth grader at Sykesville Middle School this year and his younger brother, Joseph, 11, will join him there in sixth grade. Their nine-year-old sister, Lauren, will be in fourth grade at Linton Springs Elementary School.
“They worry about the unknown,” said Ingrid. “Will I have any friends in my class? Who will sit next to me? Will I get lost in middle school? Will I have a lot of homework?”
Mostly though, her children’s confidence prevails, and she said that she loves sharing the joys of the new school year with them. The joys of a new school year are also shared by many teachers across the county.
Michele VanLeuvan, all-day kindergarten at Cranberry Station Elementary School in Westminster, looks forward to bonding with her new students and providing a warm and safe place for children to learn.
“In August, we send a letter from the school detailing the teacher assignment, necessary school supplies, and inviting students and parents to our Open House,” said Michele.
“At the Open House, kids and their parents can come in to meet the teachers and see their classrooms.” Michele also explained that most teachers send a personal letter to each child in their class welcoming them to the new school year.
“On the first day we meet all the children at the front door and show them to their classrooms. The bus is huge and it can be a little scary,” she said.
One of the best things Carroll County has done to alleviate anxiety for incoming kindergarteners is the fairly recent introduction of “staggered entry,” said Michele.
“For the first five days of school, we have about four students a day,” she said. “We get to spend lots of time getting to know them, helping them find their cubbies, and teaching them the classroom procedures. With the staggered entry approach, there are no criers.”
Another veteran kindergarten teacher, Gerry Stimmel, agrees. After teaching for 21 years, including seven years of half-day kindergarten at Mechanicsville Elementary School, she has seen tears in the first full week, after some children realize that they have to come every day.
“The kids are usually excited,” said Gerry. “I can’t remember any tears on the first day. Usually it’s the parents who are the most anxious,” she said.
She has a favorite comic that she likes to share with parents at orientation every year. It shows a school bus leaving behind a crying parent, but the child on the bus is happy.
Both kindergarten teachers recommend that parents put their children on the school bus the first day of school.
“It is so much harder for kids to separate from their parents at school,” said Gerry. “The kids can do it!” she said. “They prove it every year.” Michele Macera of Westminster knows that her two daughters can do it.
“I look forward to the new year because I loved school,” she said. “I loved everything about school – the paper, the pencils, everything. Shopping for school supplies is my favorite,” she said. “We go early in August for a good selection.”
Along with the supplies, Michele Macera also looks forward to all the new challenges awaiting 11-year-old Meghan who will enter sixth grade at West Middle School and repeating the rituals of kindergarten as her youngest, Madelyn, 5, begins her school career at Friendship Valley Elementary.
Meghan spoke about the transition to middle school in a speech to her fellow fifth graders at their farewell ceremony. “The great staff at the middle schools will help us through our first week or so,” she said. “There is nothing to be afraid of, we aren’t going to get stuffed in a locker!” Equally confident and excited about starting kindergarten, little Madelyn Macera said, “I am afraid of spiders, snakes, red ants, and beesÉbut not school.”
By the time the first day rolls around, the Macera children, the Hiltzs, the Twerys and countless others across Carroll County will embrace the confidence needed to begin the new year and fight back any fears that might stand in their way. The yellow buses will fill, carpools will make the rounds again, and teachers will welcome children back to school. And parents will muster the courage necessary to let go as they share in the excitement of the new academic year.
Unfortunately my kids never admired a well-kept binder the way I did (which, according to my therapist, is a good thing). Before the end of the first week of school, theirs would be covered in doodles or obliterated by stickers I suspected–but couldn’t prove– were obscene. By the end of October, every one of them would have lost their binder and be operating out of a backpack filled with loose, crumpled papers.
“How can you find anything?” I asked my son one morning when he was in the tenth grade. He looked at me quizzically. “Why would I want to find anything?” he asked.
But saving money on school supplies wasn’t my only concern. Another was the unusual items that teachers sometimes required, or the latest must-haves that turned a simple school-supplies list into the treasure hunt from hell.
Once I got into a scrap with another parent over the last box of fusilli pasta in the state (apparently my son’s art teacher wasn’t the only one requiring it). I won, of course; but I was never allowed back into that grocery store. Then there was the time I had a tug-of-war with some woman over the last Strawberry Shortcake pencil case. I wish I’d known at the time she was my daughter’s room mother; for the rest of that year, my kid always got the lopsided cupcake.
Now that the kids are grown, I can’t say I miss back-to-school shopping.
Mostly because I’m still working on an endless supply of fluorescent pink, orange, and green pencils and Sesame Street notepads.
My husband suggested that I put the rest of the Dukes of Hazzard
spiral notebooks on eBay. And maybe that last palette of Star Wars pocket folders, too. After all, somebody might be interested; and if not, I can always hand them out on Halloween.
How to Get a Good Start
¥ Get enough sleep.
¥ Eat a healthy breakfast.
¥ Prepare your materials the night before (do your
¥ Make notes on the new information you are given in school
(do not try to remember everything).
¥ Arrive at the bus stop early (much better than walking up
to a crowd of kids).
¥ Bring along your sense of humor; everything will not go
¥ Young children can bring something from home- a picture
or something from Mom, Dad or a special person.
¥ Complete any suggested summertime work and keep the
brain and body working well by reading and exercising
over the summer.
¥ Ask questions when you do not understand something.
¥ Talk to a parent or counselor if the nervous feelings don’t
¥ Any information you can give your children about the
school situation will be helpfulÉnot knowing what to
expect can contribute to children’s fears.
¥ Take your child to visit the school, look at classrooms, etc.
¥ Let kids have input about their first day of school clothes.
¥ Help them to be prepared with necessary supplies.
¥ Project a positive attitude; be optimistic about how your
children will do in the new school year.
¥ Recognize that children do experience fears about being
liked, being safe, keeping up with the work. Talk through
some of these issues with your children.
¥ Talk it up as a new beginning (especially if the previous
year wasn’t great).
¥ If your child’s home situation has changed (divorce, move,
death of loved one) inform the teacher or guidance counselor
and be especially attuned to concerns.
¥ Establish routines (earlier bedtime, bath at night) a couple
of weeks before school starts.
¥ Tell your children about times when you were nervous
about new beginnings.
¥ Recognize that some children are, by nature, more fearful
than others. If your child seems to be having a difficult
time settling in, and you notice changes in eating, sleeping,
or interactions with friends, you might want to get an
opinion from a counselor.
Lists provided by Lynn Davis, LCPC, Executive Director, Carroll County Youth Service Bureau.