By Katherine Bielawa Stamper
The day my daughter started kindergarten, I snapped a photo of her stepping onto that big orange school bus. She turned to me to smile as she ascended the steps. Her blue Columbia backpack—the one she’d carry until the end of ninth grade—seemed enormous on her little back. She wore an orange jumper with black Mary Jane’s and white ankle socks. Wisps of her blond hair were gathered in two pony tails.
This was the day she excitedly waited for. Preschool, library programs and hours spent reading picture books as a family were all preparation for the real deal: school. She took her seat near the front and waved through the window as the bus pulled away. I burst into tears. It was the end of an era.
Our family was soon caught up in the whirlwind of our community’s educational system. I became a volunteer reader and ELF (now Four Winds) parent. I baked peanut-free snacks for class events and hung my daughter’s artwork on the refrigerator. My husband left work to facilitate regular practice sessions with students in the Continental Math Program.
Our daughter learned reading, writing and arithmetic. She learned how to be a good friend and how to play recorder and clarinet. She discovered, through a school vision screening, that she was nearsighted. Her first pair of eyeglasses—with spiffy green frames—brought clarity to what had been a decidedly “impressionist” world. She befriended teachers and played in the Friday morning band at Allen Brook School that greeted students as they arrived for class.
The move to Williston Central School for middle school was not without a few bumps. A stint in New Zealand in fifth grade and a move to a different house in sixth grade proved positive. Friendships deepened—with peers and teachers—and music assumed greater importance amid a flurry of extracurricular offerings.
Starting high school at CVU was scary…for us, as parents. It seemed so far away. Remote, actually. And there were students from at least five towns. We’d soon be driving around Chittenden County to accommodate study sessions and sleepovers.
Academic rigor jumped several notches. Our daughter needed to develop solid study skills to meet heightened expectations. Her circle of friends assumed geographical breadth while the quality of those friendships enjoyed greater depth.
For sophomore year, our daughter was off to the French-speaking region of Switzerland to spend a year as an exchange student. CVU supported and helped facilitate the adventure.
By junior year, she wanted time away from CVU’s campus to build upon a summer internship in Montpelier. Commuting to the State House via bus in the morning, she reached out to classmates and teachers in the evening to determine class assignments.
Senior year was a whirlwind of studying, college applications, working and engaging in extracurriculars. Sleep was a highly valuable and somewhat limited commodity. Academic rigor was upped yet again. Reaching out to classmates and teachers for help—an important skill—became routine. College acceptances arrived. Scholarships were dangled. A school was selected.
No school system is perfect. That said, I believe our community’s schools make a genuine effort to accommodate students. It’s as if there’s an unwritten contract: step up to do YOUR part and we’ll support you in tailoring the experience.
As this newspaper goes to print, we’ll be moving our daughter into her residence hall in western Massachusetts. She trades “crunchy granola” Vermont for a liberal town near the Berkshires. As she dives deeper again into reading, writing, science and mathematics, I’m one proud and appreciative parent. I’m proud of my daughter for seizing the extraordinary education our community afforded her. I’m also appreciative of the truly amazing and inspiring educators who teach, challenge and inspire our children.
It’s the start of a new school year. Let’s make it a great one.
And for those kindergartners just starting out, I say, “Welcome to a great school community!”
Katherine Bielawa Stamper, a Williston resident, was a 2013 finalist for the Coolidge Prize for Journalism. Reader comments are welcome at Editor@willistonobserver.com or LittleDetailsCol@yahoo.com