A new school year brings with it the excitement and fear associated with any big change. There is the anticipation of what is to come: new friends, new skills, new lessons. There is also the fear of the unknown: Where will I sit at lunch? Will I like my new teachers? What if I fail at the things I try?
Students, parents and teachers throughout the Saugerties school district each have their own unique set of hopes and concerns about this upcoming school year.
Claire Raper, who owns Kid Around in the village of Saugerties, has seen a number of parents and children visit her store to buy school clothing and supplies since early August. She says that, although there is a mix of apprehension and excitement about the upcoming year on the part of the children whom she meets, she sees far more enthusiasm about returning to school than she did when she was a student herself.
This is true, she says, of her own children. Her daughter Lily is looking forward to starting fourth grade. For her, “social aspects are number one,” though she is also excited to return to her after-school activities and school projects. Raper’s son Oliver, too, is excited to start kindergarten and was especially thrilled to shop for school supplies.
Another incoming kindergartener who is excited about the new year is Regan Kavanagh. She is looking forward to taking the bus and to spending time with her friends, two of whom will be in her class. Her mother, Jen Kavanagh, is also excited, particularly to “watch her grow.” She is confident that Regan will do well, even though, as she says, “kindergarten is the new first grade,” since she has been in preschool for the past two years, including last year for three full days a week.
She is not, however, without concerns. Since Regan has a peanut allergy, Kavanagh is worried about her exposure. She plans to join the PTA so she can make sure the district is looking out for students with food allergies and other health concerns.
Another concern that parents face is peer pressure. Amy Henninger, whose son Dylan is entering seventh grade, says that although she is not worried about him academically, she does have some apprehension about the pressure he will face in the junior high school, where he will be facing a new building, new students, and new routines, including switching classes and an earlier start time. For his part, Dylan says that he is not looking forward to these changes, although he is excited “a little bit” about playing sports at the junior high school.
An additional concern for parents that is new this year is the Common Core curriculum, based on the new, more rigorous standards that New York State, along with the rest of the country, is implementing with the intent of preparing students for college. “It is unrealistic to expect an entire country to be taught the same thing at the same time in the same way,” said Raper, who believes the curriculum is tying teachers’ hands and it is “not fair to anyone.”
Rebecca Mulford, who teaches fourth grade at Grant D. Morse Elementary School, says not all students learn at the same pace or in the same way. “If the state wants to increase expectations, then the children are going to need more small group and individualized attention,” she said. “If you are at a doctor’s office she does not treat everyone for a cough or a sprained wrist. She assesses the situation and goes forth with the appropriate fix.” Mulford said that, because of the changes to the curriculum and the training that comes along with it, as well as to the new teacher evaluation process, she has been away from her students more frequently than she would like.
Still, in spite of these concerns, she is looking forward to returning for the new year, particularly about meeting her new students and “creating a community where we all do our best to support each other.”
This sense of community is one that Seth Turner, superintendent of Saugerties Central School District, also stresses as essential to success in the new school year. He says that “although students will be challenged by the academic rigor of their courses, the effective collaboration between the families/caregivers and the Saugerties schools have proven to be instrumental in the success of our youths.”