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Opening day

An emotional beginning as Manchester's schools open

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 04. 2013 7:32PM

Lisa Zonfrillo hugs daughter Amelia while picking her up from her first day of kindergarten at Jewett Street School in Manchester on Wednesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER -- Amelia Zonfrillo brought a friend to her first day of school Wednesday: Echo, her stuffed dog.

"It kept Amelia company," said her mother, Lisa, who showed up 25 minutes early to pick up her 5-year-old daughter at Jewett Street School.

The first day of kindergarten can be stressful — for parents.

"I was more neurotic than she was," Mom said.

About 15,000 children returned to the city's nearly two-dozen schools for a school year that will feature more instructional hours but only 175 calendar days.

"Great to be back," said Anthony Mulone, a sophomore at the Manchester School of Technology. "I miss the school. Get to see everybody I haven't seen all summer."

Not everybody felt as enthusiastic in middle school.

"I had a child cry through the whole period," said Deborah McCullough, a seventh-grade math teacher at Hillside Middle School. "She was scared."

McCullough said seventh-graders, now in their second year in middle school, are "a little more emboldened but not as cocky as the eighth-graders."

Fellow teacher Liz Van Uden said some eighth-graders who had her in seventh grade gave her hugs on opening day. "That's nice, too," she said.

One Hillside student wore a T-shirt that read "Keep Calm & Ask Your Mom."

Some city students, including freshman Desiree Maestas, were starting a new school in a new state.

"A new school year, meeting new friends and do new things," the 14-year-old said while waiting for her father, Chris, to register her at Memorial High School.

She still keeps track of her friends from Maryland using her cellphone and Facebook.

Inside Memorial High's Room 409, chemistry teacher Pauline Thibeault made a test tube of liquid bubbles, tying it in with the fire on the Hindenburg zeppelin that killed 35 aboard in 1937. Most kids didn't venture a guess of why hydrogen helped create the bubbles.

"In June, they'll be able to tell you," Thibeault told visiting Mayor Ted Gatsas and new Superintendent Debra Livingston. They visited more than a dozen schools Wednesday, choosing Cremeland over cafeteria food.

Inside Hillside's Room 111, where Susan Nakos teaches language arts essentials class, Livingston asked how many students planned to go to college. Only a couple kept their hands down. Three said they would pursue a military career after graduation and another three indicated they just wanted to go to work.

Livingston said students were getting right to learning once they arrived at school, sometimes after an emotional journey.

"I saw a few little ones with tears," said Livingston, a former middle school teacher.

Outside Jewett, Carl Doucet waited for his 5-year-old son, Jet, to depart from his first morning of kindergarten. He also grew up in the neighborhood, attending the same school in the 1980s.

"It's pretty neat — one generation to another," he said.

And how were he and his son going to mark the kindergarten milestone?

"We're going to hit Chuck E. Cheese or take him wherever he wants to go," Doucet said. "It's his day. Whatever he wants."

Jewett Street School parent John Sullivan had a high school freshman, Kaila, and a kindergarten rookie, Sante, starting school this year.

Sante said the best part of his first day was "when we were in gym" dancing.

Asked whether he liked school or home better, the boy said: "I choose both."

He gets the best of both worlds: morning kindergarten and afternoons home.

Eleven-year-old Teman Pearson missed his first day of classes at Hillside over a paperwork snafu. He was still registered at McLaughlin Middle School despite a recent family move that called for the boy to attend Hillside.

Did that blow his perfect attendance?

"I don't know if it could if you're not registered," said his father, Craig.

Someone who knows about perfect attendance is MST student Mulone. He's aiming for his fifth straight perfect year.

Only 174 more days to go.

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