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Two Schools, Three New Beginnings

At two Clearwater schools, three young girls start new chapters of their lives

Michelle Steeves made a similar walk, down a school hallway not that far away, with her mother just about 30 years ago.

But today (Aug. 22), she’s walking her own daughter, Chloe, to her kindergarten classroom, and she’s not sure who’s handling it better. 

“I’m proud and excited, and sad, because she’s growing up and becoming an individual,” Steeves said after leaving her only child in the careful care of kindergarten teacher Kathleen Kizilelma

Today Chloe gives her mom a series of hugs, waits for her to pin her apple-green, apple-shaped nametag on her shirt, and, after a backwards glance at her mom, is sitting with her new class at .

Michele remembers the day her mother dropped her off at , in 1978. 

“She has mixed emotions today. She’s a bigger girl than I was,” Steeves said about her daughter Chloe. “The rooms seemed huge. I remember wanting my mom to stay, but then I loved it.”

Her mom says that although Chloe attended preschool, a month ago she switched Chloe to a gymnastics camp. That way, she hopes, Chloe will already have faced a change in schools and be more able to adapt to day’s change.

“The first day of gymnastics she cried her heart out, but she loves it now,” Steeves said.

Down the hall, Tabitha Paquette, 11, is spending her morning volunteering at her alma mater before starting at a new school of her own.

Although Paquette graduated from Belcher Elementary a few months ago, she plans to spend two mornings a week volunteering before her day at .

Today, she helps a second grade teacher hand out paperwork. Her older sister, a family friend, and her mom are all volunteering at at the school on the first day too. 

“It’s cool, because I know where everything is and I see a lot of teachers I knew,” Paquette said.

She is not as sure about middle school. Although she’s excited about the first bell less than an hour away, she knows that middle school is more challenging. She does not want to get lost and show up late for class, even though, she says, it might be OK this week.

“It’s OK if you get there late on the first week,” she said the teachers told students at the orientation “because they know you’re new.”

As Tabitha makes her way through the halls of Oak Grove, another student waits quietly in the office, trepidation clear on her face.

Last year at this time, Angie Duran had her own circle of friends and she belonged. Today, in a new country, she recognizes no one at a new school. On top of being low woman on the totem pole as a sixth grader, she speaks no English, something her father explains to the office assistant who tries to explain Angie’s schedule to her.

“Can we go with her?” her father, Christian, asks as Angie gathers her bookbag and prepares to walk to class. No, the assistant tells him.

Angie gives her parents one last look and walks silently to her classroom. Most of her classes are for students who speak English as a second language, but not this first class. Here, she is on her own.

“She was nervous, coming to a new school without knowing English,” her father said.

He moved his family from Ecuador last year and Angie spent the final month of the school year at Eisenhower Elementary. That month wasn’t enough to teach her a lot of English, so this year Angie is back to square one.

Back by the office, her parents linger, speaking quietly to one another by the bank of blue lockers. Most of the students have found their classrooms and the halls are almost empty.

The school year is in session.

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