Learning to jump to the moon

Leia Larsen
Students head for home after their first day of school at West Grand Elementary & Middle School. West Grand School District started class on Aug. 19, 2013.
Leia Larsen/ |

Starting out: Counting to 100

It’s a late Monday morning on Aug. 19. Barrett Acker arrives at the playground near the Granby library with his mom, Martha, to enjoy a Monday-funday play date and the warm summer weather. In just over two weeks, he’ll be starting his first day as a kindergartner at Granby Elementary.

Five-year-old Barrett says he’s had a fun summer. He got to go camping and play at the park. He chooses a bright red picnic table by a big pine tree where he can sit down and talk about starting public school for the first time.

Barrett’s mom works as a teacher at Granby Elementary, so he’s been there before. “It’s a big brick building” with a big lunchroom that might serve pizza. He already got to see his new kindergarten classroom. It’s full of colorful things and wooden trains. Barrett says the most exciting thing about starting kindergarten is playing with the toys, especially the trains. He’s also excited about the playground.

Barrett doesn’t find anything about starting kindergarten scary, but he says doing math will be the “not-fun part.” So far, he can count to 100 with his mom’s help.

When asked if there’s anything grown-ups don’t understand about being a kindergartner, Barrett knits his brow and squints his brown eyes while he thinks. After some time, he settles on an answer. “How much toys they have there,” Barrett says.

When he grows up, Barrett wants to be a fireman, a “garbage trucker,” a policeman, a nurse and maybe a school bus driver, too. He’s been on the school bus before and likes to sit in the “way-way back.”

Barrett isn’t quite sure what he’s going to learn in kindergarten, but he’d like to learn how to count to 100 by himself. Beyond that, he’d like to learn how to jump really high – “all the way to the moon.”

To help his career ambitions down the road, Barrett figures he’ll have to learn how to pull people over, give them tickets and how to put bad guys in jail. He’ll need to learn how to drive ambulances and fire trucks “super-duper fast” to get to emergencies. He’ll also need to learn how to drive around the big white trucks and put garbage in them.

Barrett says kindergarten is important because kids need to learn new things, like counting to 100 by themselves. Kindergartners are different from other school kids at Granby Elementary because they’re smaller. He wants to live to be 100 years old so he can be a big giant.

Barrett says he really doesn’t know what the first day of school will be like, since he’s never been to kindergarten before. Maybe they’ll do math and play with the toy cars.

To prepare for starting kindergarten, Barrett will go back-to-school shopping for things like pencils and art books. He’ll also be the first to do testing before class officially starts, but he says testing isn’t scary. He doesn’t know any of the kids in his kindergarten class, and he’s excited to make new friends.

Looking back: ‘It goes by fast’

Later that afternoon, reliable monsoon clouds begin to roll in, but the sun prevails and the sky stays bright. A warm breeze moves through Kremmling. It’s the first day of school for Caitlyn Miller, a senior at West Grand High School.

She’s happy and a little surprised to get pulled out of her last-period class. To chat about her final year of school, 17-year-old Caitlyn chooses to meet in the media center, which is quiet this time of day. She’s fairly tall, with long hair that’s side-swept and straight. She speaks softly, but not because she’s shy. Caitlyn has a calm self-assurance, answering questions and providing insight without much pause.

Her favorite thing about being in public school is sports. She participates in volleyball, basketball, pom and cheer, and track and field. Her favorite memories from sports are from traveling with her team. She likes the bonding that comes from travel.

When asked what advice she had for incoming high school students, Caitlyn doesn’t miss a beat.

“Enjoy it while you can, because it goes by fast,” she says.

Caitlyn’s favorite classes in high school include weight-training, Spanish, math and science. She said psychology was her most favorite.

Her least favorite part of high school is the drama, which she says most of the time has to do with other girls. But she says she can’t really think of many negative things. She enjoys school.

She says her parents and other adults probably have a good grasp on what it’s like to be a high school student, since they’ve been through high school themselves. But after some thought, she says maybe her parents don’t completely understand the stress she has with sports, especially after a car accident she had over the summer. Although she has recovered, she hasn’t been cleared to play volleyball. Her parents didn’t play sports in high school, so they might not fully realize how difficult that is for her.

Caitlyn says she hopes to get a lot of bonding time with her class during her senior year. She also hopes to get set up for her first year of college. As she reflects back on her time in public school, she says West Grand is a great community to grow up in, because everyone has been there for her. Starting high school wasn’t scary for Caitlyn, because her brother was a senior when she was a freshman. She says that was pretty cool, since she got to do sports with him and travel with him.

After high school, Caitlyn thinks she’ll go the University of Wyoming to study agricultural science.

From the time she was in kindergarten until beginning her last year of high school, Caitlyn remembers a few changes. She says the school district switched from a five-day school week to four days when she was around the first or second grade. She wishes they would have kept the elementary and middle schools separate. She remembers feeling like a “big bad middle-schooler” while they were in their own building for about half a year, but then they moved to the new combined school. She kind of liked the old middle school.

Caitlyn spent most of her summer working in Steamboat Springs selling sunglasses. She says she enjoyed the job, and didn’t mind the commute too much since she lives about halfway between Kremmling and Steamboat near Rabbit Ears Pass. She didn’t do much to prepare for the first day of school, especially since she spent the latter part of the summer recovering from her car accident. She says the accident ruined a lot of things.

Her first day of school has been pretty relaxed and routine, with nothing special to report. She’s taking calculus, astronomy, civics, personal finance, English and art. Following the school year, Caityln is looking forward to getting out, being on her own and “figuring herself out.”

Mid-point: Change with more freedom

The following day, the monsoon clouds build by the early evening, and rain seems inevitable. Fortunately, Emma Belew-LaDue, 11, manages to avoid soggy conditions during her Tuesday evening soccer practice at Kaibab Park. After she swaps out her cleats and socks for flip-flops, she decides to sit on the metal bleachers to talk about starting middle school.

Emma’s a little shy and prefers to have her mom, Brene, around to help her answer questions. She doesn’t know what she finds most exciting about starting her first year at East Grand Middle School. She gazes at the kids still playing on the soccer field while she thinks.

At first, Emma was nervous about changing rooms for each class, and worried that the classes would be harder. But then she went to middle school orientation, and she’s not nervous about anything anymore.

Emma’s favorite subjects in school include reading and gym. Her least favorite class is social studies. For her sixth grade year, she’ll be taking reading, math, science, social studies, choir, art and gym. She thinks the first day of school will be “crazy,” and she’ll have to “get used to the new school.”

Emma says middle school is different from Granby Elementary because they have to change classes and aren’t with the same teacher the whole time. They also have a lot more computers than the elementary school and a lot more classes. They have lockers and will have to wear different clothes for gym as well, and there isn’t a playground. She says middle-schoolers also “don’t have to walk in lines.”

When she grows up, Emma would like to be a teacher, a ski coach, a photographer or a writer. She would like to go to college at the University of Colorado, Colorado State or somewhere else in Colorado. While in sixth grade, Emma hopes to learn new languages like Spanish and French.

Emma had a busy summer filled with sports and theater. She also worked as a counselor-in-training at Granby Rec. She helped the counselors with crafts and keeping the kids together. She hasn’t done much to prepare for the coming school year so far, but she has another orientation next week. She’ll go back-to-school shopping for new pants, skirts and school supplies like Trapper Keepers, pencils, pens and a protractor.

Although she’s almost halfway done with public school, she hasn’t given it much thought. Emma says it doesn’t feel much different. When asked what advice she has for kids in elementary school, she rolls her head around and nibbles on her pinkie while she thinks. With a little help from her mom, she remembers how much fun she had at Summit Education, and recommends fifth graders participate if they can. She stares at the green field and folds her arms to stay warm as the cold air settles.

“Have fun and finish your homework,” she adds. “Make sure you turn it in the next day.”

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