Not so tough

A middle school rookie finds her first day of sixth grade wasn't so scary.

Published August 9, 2006

MADEIRA BEACH -- Stephanie Trett, 11, knew exactly what she was going to wear for her first day at Madeira Beach Middle School.

The sixth-grader, who loves rock 'n' roll music, cheerleading and playing catch with friends, picked out a black skirt, mesh leggings and Converse All-Stars. The final accents? Ten stretchy black bracelets provided by best friend Chloe Perez, 11, and matching shoulder bags the girls bought while shopping over the weekend.

The girls opened and closed their bags throughout the bus ride to school. They looked at school supplies, nail polish and eyeliner. They shared a pack of chewing gum, whispered secrets and knowing giggles. When the bus pulled up to the school, they hopped off and immediately ran into friends from Seminole Elementary School, where they met in fifth grade.

Stephanie and Chloe said they felt lucky to be at the same school, even if they didn't share the same classes. And lunch still held possibility. Rumor had it that all the sixth-graders ate during the same period.

"We're going to try to sit together every day," Chloe said.

Before she left the house in Pinellas Park that morning, Stephanie's mom, Jean Garrison, said she was excited for her daughter's first day. "She's a very strong child, a very mature child. She's her own person," Garrison said. "She's a social butterfly."

Stephanie said she wasn't nervous about meeting new friends, and expected to see a lot of kids she already knew. "Half of my class from last year (at Seminole Elementary) is coming here," she said.

Other than no classes with Chloe, her only concern was the schoolwork. "I know, like, it's going to be harder, and just different because we're going to have different teachers. It seems cool. You get to move around instead of just sitting there. But it's definitely going to be harder," Stephanie said,"

During homeroom with Brett Volland, a social studies teacher, Stephanie got a student planner to keep track of her schedule and her class assignments. Lockers weren't provided because students take home textbooks; other copies remain at school for classroom use.

When the bell rang, Stephanie was off to her first-period class: earth science with veteran teacher Ann Meredith. Meredith welcomed the students and gave a brief PowerPoint presentation to introduce herself.

Meredith has seen nearly 30 school years begin and end. Along the way, she's noticed some trends. The students come in nervous and shy at first, confident and comfortable by the time they leave.

"They're a little nervous and trying to get to where they need to be on time, and wondering if they'll get in trouble for being late," Meredith said

By year's end? "They're more confident. They like to meet more challenges. Some of them are too relaxed, so you have to stay on top of them to get things done. You have to make sure you're consistent out of what you expect, both academically and behaviorally," Meredith said.

Meredith went over some basics of classroom procedure and told the kids what to expect for the rest of the week. Before long, the bell rang again and Stephanie was off to lunch. The rumor was confirmed, and Chloe and Stephanie found seats next to one another. The two picked identical lunches of pepperoni pizza, french fries and chocolate milk, and took some time to catch up on who they had seen from their old elementary school.

After lunch, with geography, language arts and math still ahead, Stephanie said she was enjoying her first day and feeling comfortable with the part she had worried about the most: the schoolwork.

"It doesn't seem that hard," she said.