Small steps, big beginnings: First day of kindergarten
Thursday, Sept. 10: the first day of school for youngsters across Martha's Vineyard.
Though a few of the children have the glazed eyes of early morning, most of the students filing into the Chilmark School kindergarten classroom seem giddy with the excitement of their first day.
When asked if it was hard to get up so early this morning, Noah Glasgow, 6, shakes his head from side to side. "I really get up at 5:54. Today I waited. I was awake but had to wait in bed all morning till 7, then I got to get up. It seemed like forever."
No tears in Chilmark. Students trickle in around 8 am, clutching the hands of the nearest grown-up, tossing nervous glances around the cheerfully lit room filled with baskets of toys and brightly colored posters. And the little ones silently take it all in.
But first-day jitters quickly subside, and soon the children are racing to join the others at the tables, anxious to decorate their name tags with markers and stickers.
Robin Smith, a kindergarten teacher at the Chilmark School for more than 20 years, greets each child with a happy hello, then mans the "grown-up" scissors to snip the strings for the name tags.
As Noah Glasgow waits patiently at her side to have his name tag finished, Ms. Smith tells the class, "We wear the name tags around our necks. They are not only so that we can learn our friends' names today, they are also for when we visit Windemere on Fridays, so other people can see our names."
Ms. Smith began taking her class to Windemere four years ago, and will continue the visits one Friday a month this year. "Many of the kids went to the preschool here, so they are familiar with the classroom because we do a lot of projects together," Ms. Smith says. "They also have a similar program, so the kids are used to sitting and sharing and feeling comfortable here. It's been terrific so far."
Next, each child labels their cubby, and Eleanor Neubert, the assistant teacher, takes them into the hallway to tape them up.
"The first day of kindergarten is an exciting day. It is always filled with a little anxiety, but usually the kids settle in quickly and have fun," says Ms. Neubert, who has worked at the Chilmark School for 31 years.
Ms. Smith is showing some wide-eyed students the half-dozen monarch caterpillars she and a parent collected in a terrarium. The children can hardly contain themselves as they peer into the glass, listening as Ms. Smith explains how caterpillars eventually turn into butterflies.
Imogen Taylor pulls on Ms. Smith's skirt to remind her that it is now time for an age-old Chilmark School tradition, ringing the bell to start school - a prized task among the students. Imogen, a first-grader who knows the procedure, invites Noah to try his hand for the first time. The two grab hold of the rope, pulling down and then nearly being lifted off their feet as the rope ascends. It rings loudly. Smiles spread across their faces.
The entire school meets for morning meeting, which Ms. Smith leads, first inviting everyone into a circle. It is a tight fit, but she explains that it will soon be tighter when the 4th and 5th graders, who began their annual Shenandoah trip a week early, return and take their places in the circle.
Everyone is welcomed back, including the incoming kindergarten class and the new head of school, Susan Stevens, who worked in the Palm Beach school district for 33 years, and whose husband, John Stevens, is principal of the Edgartown School.
Ms. Stevens steps inside the circle and recalls her own first day of kindergarten. She was very excited because her birth date was later than the cutoff time for enrollment, and she had to spend an extra year in preschool. "When I finally got to go to kindergarten I was really excited to start. I loved it and I had a great teacher." She remembers her name, Mrs. Miller, and says, "For any kid, it's a really exciting day."
When the kindergarten class returns to their room, there's a big easel waiting and crocodile named Lyle sitting in the corner. Everyone seems to be smiling as the group sits in a circle on the rug for their own morning meeting, complete with songs. Then they are invited to raise their hands and comment on their first day of school.
Fynn Monahan, 6, his hair bleached blond by the sun, enthusiastically shoots up his hand, his comments about to bubble out. With a big grin on his face, he speaks carefully: "I'm so happy it is our first day. It's happy to be in school. It's really exciting, and I am so happy we have gym on our first day!"
The class sounds their joyful agreement.
Katy Plasse is a freelance writer living in Chilmark.