Susan Catlett is experiencing her 25th first day of school today, but the ever-positive Boyce Elementary School principal says that it’s always an exciting to welcome the smiling faces of students as they begin appearing from buses and cars to begin a new school year.
“The excitement never goes away,” says Catlett with a beaming smile. “It’s only 7:45am, but I’ve already been up for hours!”
Any concerns that Boyce Elementary School students may have about the coming academic year are quickly displaced by the warm greetings and many hugs offered by teachers and staff. Catlett and her staff welcome the returning students by first names while greeting new students and parents with friendly smiles and handshakes.
Jamie, a second grader, gives a charming grin when asked to describe what it feels like to be back to school. He waits several seconds to respond and, at first, appears as if he may not answer.
“It’s really exciting!” Jamie bursts out.
“Are you ready to go in to your classroom?” Catlett asks Jamie while taking his hand.
“Yes ma’am , I am,” Jamie replies.
Catlett’s pride in the polite response from one of her students is evident and she immediately compliments him on his excellent manners.
While Catlett’s job is to ensure that all students are in their classrooms for the start of school at 8:15am, she also keeps an eye out for parents who may be struggling a little as well on the first day of school.
“How’s he doing,” Catlett asks one father who appears to be lingering on the front steps of the school even though his child has already gone inside with a teacher.
“I think that he’s OK. He told me that his teacher was really nice,” the father replies.
“He’ll be fine, don’t worry,” Catlett says with a reassuring pat to the father’s arm.
“There are few careers where you get to enjoy a new start every year,” Catlett reflects as students, teachers and parents mingle in a friendly mob near the school’s drop-off circle. “The first day of school is always filled with excitement, freshness and anticipation for the year ahead. It’s something that I really love about this job.”
But Boyce’s students aren’t the only ones at the school excited about a fresh start. Assistant principal Nicole McGowan and Kindergarten teacher Kate Stewart are both embarking on new careers at school.
“Ms. McGowan has been with us for several years, but this is her first year as an assistant principal,” Catlett says “and Ms. Stewart is the only new teacher at Boyce this year.”
McGowan, who recently completed her masters degree at Shenandoah University, says that after teaching for seven years she decided to pursue a school administration position because it provides the chance to have a broader impact with more students.
“As a teacher you can have an impact on your group of students,” McGowan said. “But as an assistant principal, I’m responsible for all 330 students at the school. This job will give me the opportunity to make an impact with all of our students.”
McGowan said that she is looking forward to the challenges in her role as Boyce’s assistant principal, particularly because already knowing the students and staff will allow her become productive in the new position immediately.
“Susan is a great role model,” McGowan said. “There couldn’t be a better place for me to start in a leadership role than here.”
While nearly all of the students arriving on Tuesday morning seem thrilled to be back with familiar friends and teachers after a long summer break, not everyone handles the challenge of change in the same way.
As one car pulls past the large orange traffic cones that mark the traffic circle’s student drop-off area, when a teacher opens the vehicle’s back door, no student steps out. After a several minutes of gentle conversation between a teacher and the backseat occupant, another Boyce teacher is included in the conversation.
Soon, a young blond girl carrying a pink lunchbox and matching backpack emerges from the backseat. Her eyes are red with tears but the comfort of seeing the familiar face of librarian Kathy Hudson is all that it takes to ease the transition from the familiar comfort of the child’s family car and into the first day of school.
The child and mother exchange a supportive glance as Hudson wraps a supportive arm around the child’s shoulder.
“Today is our chance to welcome the kids back and make sure that they’re all doing OK,” Catlett said. “For the rest of the week teachers will meet the students outside and walk them into the classroom as a way of easing the transition.”
Catlett says that most teachers have a natural ability to connect with students and all teachers share the excitement of getting back into their classrooms.
“Getting ready for the first day of school is a tremendous amount of work,” Catlett said. “But we love what we do, and if you don’t, then being a teacher is not the right place for you to be.”