New principal greets kids for first day of school

  • Stephanie Apanell, a fourth-grade teacher at the Whately Elementary School, meets her new student Eric Caldwell and his mom, Sukey Lawler, on Wednesday. Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ

  • Rowan Reilly meets her new fourth-grade teacher, Stephanie Apanell, at the Whately Elementary School on Wednesday. Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ

  • Rowan Reilly checks out her new fourth-grade desk at the Whately Elementary School as her sister, Reese Reilly, who will be in kindergarten this year. Instructional Assistant Lauren Preston-Wells talks tho their mom, Beth Reilly, in the background. August 29, 2018. Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • Student and parents got to meet their new teachers at the Whately Elementary School on Wednesday. August 29, 2018. Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 8/30/2018 12:23:43 AM

WHATELY — Instead of champagne and a Ryan Seacrest broadcast, students and guardians rang in a new year at Whately Elementary School with Hoodsie ice cream cups and flute music on Wednesday.

Today is the first day of the school’s 2018-19 academic calendar, but new Principal Kristina Kirton scheduled a New Year’s Eve ice cream social a day early so children could get an opportunity to meet her and explore their new classrooms. Students entering pre-kindergarten through sixth grade got to meet their teachers and instructional assistants, find their designated desks and enjoy some ice cream as a cool treat.

“It’s been nice to have a chance to meet with folks. You know, people are apprehensive when it’s a new person in charge of their child,” Kirton said in her office about halfway through the event, which lasted from 2 to 4 p.m. “I know it takes a while — I’m going to have to earn some trust but people here have been so open to discussing things and sharing their thoughts about what goes on here. It’s just kind of amazing here.

“It’s a little strange to have kids coming in and I don’t know everyone’s name,” she continued. “We had 560 kids in my old school and I knew everyone’s name, so I’m really looking forward to learning everyone’s name.” Whately Elementary has 139 students now enrolled.

Kirton comes to Whately Elementary after 26 years in Holyoke, where she taught alongside Steve Damon, a Whately Elementary music teacher who welcomed children and guardians by playing the flute while sitting in a chair near the building’s entrance. He played songs like “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” and “Oh! Susanna.” He said he works at the school on Wednesdays and always greets students with flute music.

Fourth-grade teacher Stephanie Apanell and instructional assistant Lauren Preston-Wells welcomed several new students to Room 139 and asked each visitor about their summer. Nine-year-old Rowan Reilly said her family spent time at a house her grandparents own on Cape Cod and she collected seashells there.

“I love to collect seashells,” Apanell told Rowan in front of Rowan’s designated desk. “I saw your grandma this morning. She says you’re very excited that you’re going to be in fourth grade.”

Apanell, going into her 20th year at Whately Elementary, said she knows most families in the school and has taught many of her students’ older siblings. She said the social is a lot of added work for educators, but it’s a great way to celebrate the start of school.

“I’m certainly into the idea of letting them come in if it helps ease anxiety or if it brings them excitement,” she said. “Everybody thinks of the new year as beginning January to January, but it feels like this is a new year.”

Apanell’s room features Gerald, a stuffed giraffe. Apanell explained the toy is borrowed from a teacher across the hall and represents the main character is the book “Giraffes Can’t Dance.”

“It’s all about having a growth mindset and things that we can’t do yet,” she said. “So it will help us set goals for ourselves at the beginning of the year about things that we can’t do yet and that want we to work hard and learn how to do while we’re in fourth grade. So, he becomes our class mascot.”

Third-grade teacher Jennifer Kellogg, in Room 108, said Wednesday’s event was a fun way for students to see their new classroom in a casual and positive way. Her room has a direct view of the school’s garden, where instructional assistant Lois Lively said students have one class every week.

Kirton said sixth-graders were doing a great job handling the Hoodsie distribution. She said the original idea was to have cartons of ice cream but that plan was nixed due to the heat.


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