From kindergarteners to seniors, students start new year

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At left, 5-year-old Andrew FitzGerald traces a star. At right, 17-year-old Tabitha Myers fills in a new planner on the first day of school. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

Seventeen-year-old Tabitha Myers and 5-year-old Andrew FitzGerald share a few common traits. Both live in Colchester, have summer birthdays, are the youngest children in their families and know what they want to be when they grow up.

Plus, neither was nervous for their respective first days of school.

On the morning of August 30, Myers drove herself to Colchester High in a blue Volkswagen Jetta for her last first day of school. She said her mom grew teary as she snapped a photo of the now senior.

Andrew took a yellow school bus to Union Memorial School for his very first school day. His mom, Nichole FitzGerald, got a bit emotional, too, watching as he strapped on a backpack and became an official kindergartener.

FitzGerald, who works at UMS as a support staffer, watched Andrew climb on the playground for a few minutes before he walked down the hall to teacher Darlene Mulcahy’s classroom.

For Myers, school started slightly later than normal. The 12th-grader enjoyed a free first period before sitting down in a second floor classroom for “homebase” — the CHS name for teacher advisory time.

Sitting at a hexagonal table with friend Dan Morton, Myers pulled out a new planner and began mapping out her daily schedule. Next up was senior seminar — a required project and community service focused course — followed by Advanced Placement biology and Spanish V.

“I’m kind of excited because it’s my last year and I’m going on to different things,” Myers said. “I didn’t really [have] the first day jitters.”

Around her, students chatted about finding breakfast in a few minutes, showed each other photos taken during summer vacation on their phones and debated the merits of various elective classes.

Dan Morton (left) and Tabitha Myers (right) pose for a photo during their “homebase” class on August 30. The pair decided to become math mentors at the urging of their teacher. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

Math teacher Julie Rutz made her way to Myers and Morton within minutes, regaling them with stories of her hair-raising Algebra I class that morning. Soon enough, she’d convinced the pair to become math mentors during their morning free periods.

“It would look good on college applications,” Morton said. Myers nodded, picking up her pen to adjust the recently drawn schedule.

Her No. 1 college choice is Wake Forest University where she hopes to study pre-medicine, she said, eyeing a future career in neuroscience.

Myers spent her summer prepping for that aim, taking courses through the University of Vermont Health Academy with about 100 other students. Her remaining time was spent waiting tables at McGillicuddy’s and reading to kids at the Burnham Memorial Library.

By the end of summer, she’d added soccer pre-season practice to that list. The first day of her senior year concluded with a two-hour practice on the athletic fields outside.

Back at UMS, Andrew broke into a grin as he spied his mom down the hallway after lunch. He waved from afar, stepping back into line with his classmates without a trace of hesitation.

Kindergarten teacher Darlene Mulcahy helps 5-year-old Andrew FitzGerald on the first day of school. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

Andrew’s first day of school wrapped up with soccer, too — he watched his older sisters’ practice at Airport Park after riding the bus back home, FitzGerald said.

This summer, Andrew learned to swim underwater and ride a bike without training wheels. And together, he and FitzGerald documented their “hopes and dreams” for his first year of school at Mulcahy’s urging.

FitzGerald said she hoped he made friends and learned to read and write. Andrew dreamed of coloring, being read to and earning stickers. When he grows up, he wants to be a teacher.

In Mulcahy’s colorful classroom, Andrew had already checked off his first goal. Together, he and Mulcahy traced stars onto black construction paper with white chalk. Choruses of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” floated through the air as his fellow kindergarteners created their own masterpieces.

Earlier, Andrew had watched with intense interest as Mulcahy read a book filled with brightly-colored dots to his class. When the kids noticed a pattern, Mulcahy gasped incredulously.

“Are you sure you’re not first-graders?” she asked with a smirk.

“I think we could skip right to second grade!” one witty child replied.

“I think you might be right,” Mulcahy responded. “But I don’t want to lose you just yet.”