On the first day of school — arguably one of the biggest days of the year for any youngster — Olivia Head vetoed what her mother picked out for her to wear.
Instead, the 6-year-old opted for an ensemble of jean shorts with an accent of tiny flowers and a matching top. She also sported a pair of brand new black Mary Jane shoes.
“My mom had picked out T-shirts for me to wear, but I think this is very nice instead,” Olivia said Wednesday morning. “I like it.”
As the Stonington and Westerly public school systems welcomed back students for the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, the day took on even more significance for Olivia, who proudly let her mother take a photo of her standing in front of the sign at West Vine Street School in Pawcatuck.
Wednesday was her first day of school in America. Her family, residents of Stonington, had spent the last two years on an overseas contract in Overton, a village and parish in Hampshire, England. “I’m very excited because I already know two friends,” Olivia said. “And I have one of my best friends literally sitting next to me in my class.”
West Vine Street/West Broad Street also welcomed back Alicia Sweet Dawe, hired as principal in June. Sweet Dawe spent 14 years in Stonington as a teacher and for two years was the elementary program facilitator. She left the district last year after accepting the principal’s job at Voluntown Elementary School.
“It feels good to be home,” Sweet Dawe said. “Although there are a few new faces, it feels like I never left. This is the most exciting day of the year. It’s a day when we need to get these kids excited and motivated so they want to come back tomorrow.”
In Westerly, Tara Klopfenstein also started the 2013-14 year in a new building. The new middle school art teacher spent part of the day overseeing fifth-grade lunch.
“It’s been a wonderful first day,” said Klopfenstein, who is in her ninth year of teaching. She also taught at Springbrook and State Street elementary schools in Westerly. “I’m so excited to be here, it’s been a lot of fun.”
Brett Mayne, an eighth-grader at Westerly Middle, said he had been ready for days for school to begin.
“I was just ready to come back,” Mayne, 13, said. “I wanted to know what classes I got, I just wanted to be here.”
Mollie Clark, a fifth-grader at Westerly Middle, was apprehensive. “I was a little worried about going to the middle school,” Clark, 10, said. “But it’s been good so far. I went to music, and liked it a lot.”
Springbrook Elementary fourth-graders Markus Chim, 9, and Adara Leach, 9, had one goal Wednesday: to make friends.
“I was excited for the first day but nervous about meeting new friends,” Markus said. “But I met some.”
Added Adara: “I was kind of excited to see all of my friends and to see if I could meet anyone new. I met two people and found out my teacher (Kathy Browning) is very supportive.”
Plenty of parents also were excited for the first day of school, including Pawcatuck resident Tanisha Torres, who was filling out paperwork with her 7-year-old son, Jonathan Torres, on Wednesday at West Vine Street School. “I couldn’t get him to go to sleep last night because he was so excited,” Torres said, laughing. “It was kind of like the night before Christmas and he was waiting for Santa Claus.”
The second-grader agreed.
“I just wanted it to be the next day,” Jonathan said.
At Deans Mill Elementary in Stonington, 7-year-old second-grader Nathan Mahoney already knew what his favorite part of the school day would be by midmorning.
“Recess,” he said.
To which his identical twin, Ethan Mahoney, said: “We haven’t even done recess, yet.”
“So,” Nathan said. “I still like recess.”
Krysta Dessereaux, a kindergarten teacher at Deans Mill, will have to wait another day before her classroom is bustling with students. Stonington schools will usher in full-day kindergarten on Friday, a first for the district.
Deans Mill will have four kindergarten classes, and teachers and the custodial staff spent this month getting the classrooms ready.
Desseraux’s room will have the main attraction, however.
Besides colorful book bins and décor, her room contains a large red play schoolhouse built by her father. The wooden schoolhouse, which Desseraux, her mother and brother helped paint and spruce up, includes a school bell and flower box on the outside and a kitchenette and table and chairs on the inside.
“I know it’s their first year in school. …what a great way to use their imagination and engage in dramatic play,” Desseraux said. “I want them to get excited about learning.”