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Kindergarteners Go Back To School

Elsie Mae Coolidge in her pre-K classroom at the end of last school year.

by Garrett Heaney

MONTPELIER — August is officially here, and with its arrival, all eyes are focused intently on two things: the end of summer and the beginning of the new school year. At Union Elementary School, they are even more excited than most, as they get to welcome an entire new class of kindergarteners to the school system. There are … are you ready … 72 new kids coming into the kindergarten class, as of Aug. 1, but that number is “fluid” as Principal Chris Hennessey tells us, due to the nature of enrollment/registration over the summer. As the numbers change, more kids could potentially register later in the month, but as of now, we’re looking at 72, which Hennessey tells us is smaller than most years, perhaps the smallest in the last five.

Just last year, parents in the Montpelier Public Schools system were happy to learn that the elementary school was starting a pre-K program, and between the morning and afternoon classes, there were 27 little ones who were learning the new routine and forming the bonds of friendship that will carry them through the years to come. In fact, 11 to 15 of these kids (again, fluidity) are already registered for kindergarten and eagerly awaiting its arrival in September! Yes, while the bigger kids return for their first day on Aug. 30, kindergarteners get an extra week of summer and aren’t headed back until Sept. 5. Pre-K’ers, both the returning students with one pre-K year under their belts, and new pre-K’ers don’t start until  Sept. 11. Hennessey tells us preschool is fully enrolled with 32 students, and the number for the entire school, pre-K through fourth grade is 441.

As the father of a 5-year-old (Elsie Mae Heaney Coolidge!) who is moving into kindergarten this September, it makes me really happy to hear the enthusiasm not only from her classmates, but also from her teachers. During her end of year class celebration in June, one of her teachers (her classroom had three!) was speaking in front of the class, and told us something that gave me a lot of hope. She revealed that never in her 15 years in education, had she ever seen a group grow as closely as Elsie’s class, and remarked on how kind, and compassionate and genuinely friendly these kids are towards each other. As a dad, I witness it for myself whenever Elsie and I are out and about and bump into one or more of her classmates. They all run up to each other and hug each other and smile and talk with each other. And from what we hear from the teachers, this is pretty much the norm for all the kids, every day when they arrive, and every afternoon when they get out. I see it not only from my daughter and her “best buds” as she calls them, but all the kids. It’s as if they have settled on hugs as their formal class greeting, and it’s quite a reassuring thing, as a parent and member of this family-oriented community we all live in.

I popped into the school this week to talk with Hennessey and the ladies at the front desk, and he told me he was just getting ready to send out an email letting parents of kindergarteners know that they have added a fifth classroom and teacher in Michelle Lynch, who is covering a maternity leave. At the beginning of the summer there were only going to be four classes for kindergarten, including Mary Mello, Heather Bates, Dena Cody and Rachel Whalen. With the addition of Lynch, Hennessey wanted to let parents know that they are putting the final class rosters together and will be announcing who gets who within the next few days!

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From what Elsie tells me, she is very excited to get back with her friends at school, looks forward to playing outside, climbing the swing set, making artwork and dancing. “I love ballet and want to dance like them,” she says, about the ballerinas in Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” video, and the ballet she saw in June. This summer we took her to Barre Opera House to see a performance of “Peter Pan” put on by the local dance studio Moving Light Dance Company, a school led by Christine Harris that specializes in ballet for young children all the way up through high school. Elsie tells us she plans to enroll for fall semester there as well, and we are eagerly awaiting registration later this month.