Wearing a flower headband, a flowered skirt and shoes with flowers on them, Brynn McDermott is the picture of confidence.
Brynn is 5, and she started kindergarten Tuesday. Was she nervous?
“I can’t wait!” she said as her face broke into a smile.
That was a firm no.
Two weeks ago Brynn was swinging high in Miller Park. Her mom, Nicki McDermott, had her hands full — both Brynn and her younger sister, Cora, needed a push.
“I think kindergarten will be right up her alley,” McDermott said. “She’ll love being around her peers.”
Brynn is sociable and energetic. She’s been going to day care since she was 8 weeks old and has loved being at the Children’s Learning Center and the Montessori School of the Tetons.
Neither she, nor her parents, seemed worried about first-day jitters.
Books and barbecue
Boisterous little voices and happy shouts filled the cafeteria Aug. 18 at Davey Jackson Elementary School’s first new kindergartner barbecue.
“There are way more people here than I expected,” Principal Scott Eastman said before he gave a welcome speech that was translated into Spanish. “This is the biggest turnout I’ve seen aside from parent-teacher conferences.”
He ordered pizza at the last minute to feed the hungry crowd because it looked like the planned hamburgers and mac and cheese might run out.
Teton Literacy Center staffers were out in full force, handing out a book for every new student. Backpacks and school supplies were also available for free if needed.
“We’ve been wanting to do this for years,” said Laura Soltau, the Literacy Center’s executive director.
Brynn insisted on selecting a book in Spanish: “Clifford Va a la Escuela,” or “Clifford’s First School Day.” She’s on the waiting list for a dual-immersion class.
Checking out the cafeteria
Brynn, Cora, their dad, Brendan, and their mom made their way to a table. Brynn was quickly surrounded by friends, their feet dangling from the benches as they worked on a coloring book and giggled together.
Students and their families sang along to the catchy tune of “Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes” before they loaded up their plates. Now the cafeteria would seem familiar — not large or intimidating — when school started.
Brynn’s glittery hair clip matched her sandals as she bounded around Staples with her mom and sister.
“Brynn does everything a tomboy would do, but in a skirt or a dress,” Nicki McDermott said.
Brynn’s tiny feet were pressed together as she leaped around the store, veering between helpful and not. The anticipation was clearly building.
“I was such a sucker for school supplies,” McDermott said.
It certainly looked like she passed along that love to her daughter.
At times Brynn found the right purchase: pink erasers, crayons, glue sticks. At other times she tossed other items into the shopping basket, like scented markers. Whatever she and Cora could get their hands on was fair game.
Cora, 2, seemed pleased when she picked something on the shopping list. “I find it! I find it!” she repeated, staring up at her mom for approval.
The little group stopped at the notebooks, as Nicki steered Brynn toward one that looked like “the kind Grandpa keeps in his shirt pocket.”
Brynn settled on a pink notebook with purple and orange accents before attempting to carry the overflowing basket of supplies down the aisle.
She made it one or two steps.
First ride on the yellow bus
“I put shells in my backpack,” Brynn whispered conspiratorially.
She was waiting on the side of Highway 89 with her dad for the school bus and apparently decided that vacation souvenirs were essential to bring on the first ride to school.
Brynn, who brushed her own hair for the big day, a trial run on the bus and open house at school, was busy climbing all over her dad, swinging and joking around. Her purple monogrammed backpack and matching purple butterfly lunch box sat by her feet.
“It’s definitely nervous energy,” Brendan McDermott said, his arms getting a workout as he lifted Brynn up and down.
The yellow bus appeared, slowing down and flashing its lights. Brynn snapped out of her monkeying around and scrambled toward it, leaving her dad in the dust as bus driver John Murray opened the doors and students clambered on.
They settled down in a seat, and McDermott dutifully went over bus safety with Brynn on his lap.
“Do you ever cross in front of the bus without Mr. John saying so?” he asked.
“No,” Brynn quickly replied. So far she thought the bus was “fun!”
Her dad had her repeat the bus number until he was satisfied she had it memorized. The ride went quickly, and before they knew it Davey Jackson was in sight.
“In the beginning some of them look shell-shocked, like they’ve seen an explosion,” Murray, known by the kids as Mr. John, said — miming eyes as wide as saucers. “But in a few weeks they’ll get on like they own the bus.”
Murray said he’s never had to wait on the side of the road for a crying kindergartner on the first day of school — yet.
Davey Jackson Elementary School was full of shy smiles and wide eyes as kindergartners attended the open house Friday.
The emotion was palpable. Parents, trying to be calm, even appeared a little on edge as they looked forward to a momentous day in their kid’s childhood.
Standing by the door, Principal Scott Eastman had the biggest smile of anyone as he welcomed families fresh off the buses.
Brynn saw her friend Madison West out of the corner of her eye. Squealing, the girls hugged and compared school supplies — they’d chosen matching purple backpacks.
The McDermotts wandered around the school — Brynn’s classroom isn’t in the kindergarten wing, so locating the room took a little legwork. Teachers’ expectant faces lined the halls as the family weaved through them.
Quinn Bonnet’s classroom has photos of every student on the door, and Brynn’s face lit up when she found her name.
Bonnet, who’s worked 11 years in the district, just had a baby — so she’ll be on maternity leave until Thanksgiving. Teacher Billie Metzger will help Brynn and 15 other students in her class flourish during the first three months.
“You get to have two teachers,” Nicki McDermott said. “You’re so lucky!”
Primary colors abounded and the desks barely reached the top of adults’ boots. Name tags directed students to their tables, topped with plastic bags of goldfish crackers that read, “You are o‘fish’ally a kindergartner.”
Unsurprisingly, Brynn seemed unfazed, plunking down into her chair to eat string cheese after she explored the classroom and learned where to hang her coat.
“I wish I was starting kindergarten tomorrow!” she exclaimed. “It’s too many days.”
Some kids seemed bashful, hiding behind their parents’ legs. Brynn was not one of them. By that point her backpack, heavy with all the shells, was on the ground.
Before leaving the room Brynn’s dad lifted her up to look out the window, pointing at the grassy expanse and mountains beyond.
“I think you have the nicest view of any elementary school, ever,” Brendan said. “Maybe you’ll see elk in the winter.”
Satisfied, Brynn nodded and marched out of the room. It was time to get back on the bus.
Coffee and Kleenex greeted parents Tuesday as they streamed through the doors of Davey Jackson Elementary School, little ones in tow.
“It’s my first day,” Brynn said. “And I get to be here all day!”
Her pigtails bobbed as she jumped around, taking off layer after layer.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her this excited,” Nicki McDermott said.
“Miss Billie” said hello to her students with a warm smile, flicking her eyes up to parents with a reassuring look.
Brynn and her classmates worked on coloring in a school bus while moms and dads said their goodbyes and tried to extricate themselves from the room — some with more success than others.
Nicki McDermott left with a grin and a wave, but her eyes started to well up outside in the hall.
“I didn’t get like this when she went to preschool,” she said, smiling as she wiped away tears. “She just looked so big this morning.”