With a sigh of relief, sixth-grader Abby Hradsky mastered her locker combination on the first try this morning at Washington Middle School.
Abby, who came from St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic School, is among an estimated 400 sixth-graders at the middle school adjusting to a much larger enrollment than Brainerd's public or private elementary schools.
In the past week, Abby had been working to memorize her locker combination number and her personal identification number for school lunch, as well as the numbers of her classrooms and teachers' names.
In Abby's first two classes, reading with Lois Zauhar and art class with Carolyn Bye, the sixth-grader was nervous, but knew where to go. At the school's open house Wednesday, Abby said she was concerned about getting to class on time, finding her way around the school and getting her locker open.
However, as this morning progressed, Abby's nervousness slipped away. She knew one or two students in her classes. And as she walked down the sixth-grade hallway before class and between classes she saw a few friends who came up to her excitedly to say hi.
During the open house last week, her mother, Theresa Hradsky of Brainerd, said she was somewhat nervous about her daughter entering the middle school and making the transition from a small, private school to a larger, public school. She has an older son, Jacob, who is now off to Franklin Junior High School.
"(Abby) is going from having a classroom of 10 to a school of 300-400 and larger class sizes. She is changing from classroom to classroom and then there's the locker. But I'm confident she'll make it through."
Sixth-grader David Hillstrom, who attended Nisswa Elementary School, said he is familiar with Washington because his sister went there. He said his main issue is being able to handle the longer class periods. He was not worried about being bullied.
"I got my locker combination the first time," he said during the open house. "I have everything memorized. I'm ready to go."
David also knows a few teachers, such as Mike Zauhar and Dale Rapovich. He also knows a lot of the students from other elementary schools through hockey and baseball programs.
His mother, Debbie Hillstrom, said she is not nervous for her son because of his familiarity with the school. She said the biggest thing was for him to memorize his schedule and he did.
Twin sisters Taylor and Kelsey Ott are sixth-graders, who previously attended Riverside Elementary School.
They do not have any classes together this year, which will be a major adjustment for them.
Mother Kris Ott of Brainerd said during the open house, "I'm sad to say goodbye to the elementary years. We've done a lot of talking about the familiarity of the school (at Washington), getting comfortable with the school and where their classes are."
Ott said, however, it will be an exciting time for the girls. She said the middle school years will be a time for them to grow.
Lois Zauhar, who teaches mathematics, reading and English at Washington, said most sixth-graders are nervous during the first few days of school, even if they won't admit it.
"They are not in their core group anymore," she said. "But after three days they are completely relaxed."
Counselors at the middle school, Laura DeChaine and Kathy Hensel, are ready to deal with the routine feelings students worry about each year.
"Students go through a lot of changes in middle school," said Hensel. She said many students fear they will not be able to open their lockers, or won't find their classroom or that they will be late. "We are here to nurture them through this. If they need help there will be plenty of adults to help."
DeChaine said, "It is normal for them to be scared and we are here to help. If you can't open your locker, don't panic."
Hensel said she wants students to have a great time at school and meet friends. She encourages them to get involved in school activities.
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