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Fresh starts abound as new school year begins

From the princess backpacks to the name-brand jeans, the first day of school provides parents a sentimental measuring stick for the growth of a child’s personality.

With newly sharpened pencils and new hairdos, the first day offers students a yearly fresh start—and there’s never a beginning so crisp as the very first day at a new school.

Some area students and their parents shared those nerve-racking first moments of school.

STARTING KINDERGARTEN

For a week, Mackenzie Critchley woke up with the same question: Is today the day?

And Tuesday morning, the answer was finally yes.

Mackenzie excitedly boarded a bus for Widewater Elementary, making her one of 1,841 kindergartners to start Stafford County schools Tuesday.

She had no qualms about the adventure, but her mom, CamMarie Knepper, counted the minutes until her only child was back home.

She wasn’t the only mom watching the clock Tuesday. Aimee Paytes cried as she dropped her youngest child, Bo, at Conway Elementary School.

Bo happily bounded into the kindergarten classroom, familiar to him because his sister Piper attended kindergarten in the same room last year.

When the school day ended, Bo ran off the bus and leaped into his mother’s arms.

“Did you miss me?” Aimee asked. He nodded against her shoulder.

“I missed you too, I missed you so much,” she said.

“Do you want to go back tomorrow?” his grandmother, Joanne Potter, asked.

“Yes!” Bo replied.

“And the day after that?”

“Yesssss!”

He wasn’t the only kindergartner to start school in a familiar setting. Emma Duvall attended the same elementary school where her parents learned their ABCs more than 20 years ago. And her maternal grandfather also went to Hartwood Elementary School.

A mural in front of the art room still has pictures of both her mother and her father.

“She gets to follow in the footsteps of us,” Emma’s mom, Megan, said. “And maybe one day, her kids will go there, too.”

Natalie Roman didn’t have any first-day jitters, but her father had enough for both of them. Nick Roman sent his oldest daughter to her first day of kindergarten on his first day as principal of Rocky Run Elementary School.

Natalie attends Anthony Burns Elementary, where her mom, Melissa, teaches first grade. Nick was nervous about Natalie’s first day, but said he had an advantage.

“I knew that she was in great hands,” he said. “And now we’re just elated to have that first day under our belts and look forward to a great day two.”

STARTING MIDDLE SCHOOL

Sixth-grader Harper Cleaton asked her sister a million and one questions the day before she started middle school. Her sister, Ashley, is an eighth-grader this year at Walker–Grant Middle School in Fredericksburg, where Harper started her middle school career Tuesday.

The night before school started, Harper said she was a little bit nervous, but she was looking forward to middle school.

In particular, she was excited about changing classes, having a locker and taking different kinds of classes, such as creative writing and digital art.

Harper’s mom, Jennifer, said she was a “bit sad” because Harper is her “baby.”

She said it’s not as nerve-racking and nail-biting as when her older daughter started middle school.

When Harper got home Tuesday, after the first day, she went straight to get a snack, her mom said. Lunch is earlier in the day, so by the time she got home around 3 p.m., she was hungry.

She said the first day was great. She noted some difference between her old school and her new school.

“All of the teachers seemed really nice at this point,” she said. “They might be more strict as the year goes on because it’s just the first day.”

Harper said she learned things like when she should go back to her locker and when to grab her lunch.

Her mom Jennifer said everything went smoothly with the bus, even though it was a little late and there was a new driver.

She said she hasn’t heard about homework from Harper yet, but there’s lots of “parent homework”—forms to sign and send back.

STARTING HIGH SCHOOL

Massaponax High School freshman Sara Walters was as prepared as she ever was for the first day of school Tuesday.

She laid out her outfit—a pink and blue dress and a denim jacket—the night before and had consulted friends about what classes would be like.

“They told me to make sure you do the work,” she said. “The teachers are stricter. And not to slack.”

Sara’s entire course load is advanced. She’s taking advanced-placement algebra II, science, human geography and English, and she said the summer homework to prepare for her classes was challenging. In college, she wants to double major in criminal justice and meteorology before becoming a homicide detective for the FBI, so she said she wants to take as many advanced classes as possible.

And even though she’s one of three freshman in her 30-student math class, she’s not bothered by upperclassmen.

For three weeks during the summer, Sara, who plays bass clarinet, went to band camp at Massaponax High and met all of the school’s band members.

“I met more friends than I can even talk to,” she said.

She said she was lucky to have met them since only two of her friends from Freedom Middle School are going to Massaponax this year. Her mother, Ginger Walters, teaches at Massaponax, so Sara said the school wasn’t a complete mystery on the first day.

Sara is still learning the halls, though. Massaponax is one of the larger schools in Spotsylvania with about 1,900 students. Over 520 of those are freshmen.

Sara has advice for other area freshmen.

“Come prepared and have a good attitude,” she said. “If you don’t, nothing is going to work out for you.”

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