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Smiles, tears, anxiety – all part of the first day of school

Johanna and her husband, Scot Cloward, wave goodbye to their daughter, Jocelyn, who is starting kindergarten at Wesley Chapel Elementary. (Below) UCPS Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellis chats with a couple of students during her tour of East Union Middle School. Students arrive at Cuthbertson Middle School on the first day of the 2015-16 school year. Hadley Henderson, 8, enjoys jump rope with her friends during recess at Marvin Elementary on the first day of school. Also pictured, from left, are Kelsey Morehead, 8; Brooklyn Young, 7; and Toni Valenti, 7. Students are greeted at Cuthbertson High School with rock and roll music. (Bottom) Donnie Niedzialek, an AIG sixth-grade math teacher at Cuthbertson Middle School, gives a high-five to one of his students.

Union County Public Schools welcomed approximately 42,000 students to the 2015-16 school year.

“I visited many schools today and I saw students engaged in learning and they were enthusiastic,” said UCPS Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellis. “I’m looking forward to another successful school year.”

The first day of school brings out a multitude of emotions.

For Victoria Robertson, a second-grade teacher at Wesley Chapel Elementary, the day held excitement about meeting her new students and confidence born from being in her second year as a Visiting International Faculty educator from Glasgow, Scotland.

For Donnie Niedzialek, an Academically, Intellectually and Gifted sixth-grade math teacher at Cuthbertson Middle School, the day was bitter sweet because he’s retiring after the school year.

As with many parents, Johanna and Scot Cloward, there was anxiety as they brought their 5-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, for her first day of school at Wesley Chapel Elementary. “It’s scary dropping off your daughter and she’s so small,” Scot said.

For Jocelyn, however, the day couldn’t have gotten much better. “I don’t know what’s going to happen today, but I’m excited. I know I’m going to color.”

Wesley Chapel Elementary assistant principal Elisha Bauss said even though parents bring their kindergarten students on a staggered schedule, the first day of school is usually the busiest day.

“We sign them in and make sure they have all their paperwork, how they’re getting home from school today,” Bauss said. “We take a picture for the first day of kindergarten. Right now we have everyone signed in so they’re going to gather all the kindergarten students up and they’re going to wave good bye to mom and dad and we’re taking them to class.”

Bauss’ son, Owen, started his first day at Wesley Chapel Elementary as well, but waving good-bye to him was probably a little easier on her than the other parents.

“Just knowing I’m here in the building with him makes it easier,” Bauss said. “And I’m too busy to cry right now,” she joked.

Marvin Elementary second grader Hadley Henderson, 8, was very happy about coming back to school.

“I was happy to see all my friends,” Hadley said. “And I like math a lot. I’m not looking forward to homework, but I was glad for school to start. All of our friends are here, we get to learn more and we get older. I like to get older. I also get taller. I’m almost up to my sister and she’s 17.”

Hadley’s principal Lynn Cole said the start of the school year went quite well for her 612 students.

“Our car rider line was perfect,” Cole said. “Everybody was here. Everybody was happy. I think we’re off to a great start.”

Scotland native Victoria Robertson looks forward to getting to know her second-grade students, adding that this year she doesn’t have the anxiety levels she had when first coming to America to teach.

“It’s such a nice feeling this year, because I know what to expect,” Robertson said. “Last year I remember going into my grade-level planning, and honestly, I didn’t know what anyone was talking about. The jargon you use here is so different.”

On the middle school level, even though the students are older, the job for administrators is very similar.

Cuthbertson Middle School principal Kevin Nesteruk said the first day went as planned for his 1,160 students, with no major glitches to mark the start of the new school year.

“The biggest challenge is making sure all our kids’ schedules are correct and their transportation routes are all set; making sure transportation is squared away and all the parents are notified,” Nesteruk said.

Sixth-grade math teacher Donnie Niedzialek said it was easy to make the decision to retire this year, but it won’t be easy not seeing the students.

“I want to go sit at the beach,” he said. “We’re building a house at the beach. It’s the number one item on my bucket list. But I will miss the kids. They are so funny. They make me laugh. Middle school is not for everybody, but I love it. I find them to be funny, energizing. They keep me young.”

Mr. N, as he’s called, has always taught sixth grade, which he feels is poetic. “I was a struggling sixth grader and nobody took an interest in me until the ninth grade. So I struggled in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Someone took an interest in me in ninth grade. Here I am teaching the very grade when I began to struggle so much. That’s why I enjoy this so much. I am constantly reminded to reach every one of my students, because I was a student on the back row that never raised his hand. I’ve got that special empathy for them.”

Students at Cuthbertson High School were greeted with smiles and music when they returned to school. “We had our rock band playing in the cafeteria, our drummers playing outside to welcome our bus riders, and student council members at all doors with morning greetings, good wishes, and candy for all the students coming in,” said Cuthbertson’s media coordinator Paula Tautfest.

As departments checked in at the end of the school day, there were no major issues reported.

Written by: Deb Bledsoe - UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Aug 24, 2015 by Deb Bledsoe

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