Going back to school: The most bittersweet time of the year
Last August, I finally finished school (for now). It is hard to believe that I went to school for 17 years, and even harder to believe that I may go back for a master’s degree in a few years. If there is one piece of advice from my experience that I would give people going back to school this year, it would be to never give up.
It may sound cliché, but it was my mantra when I started kindergarten and it was my mantra as I walked across the stage at my college graduation. It is still something I tell myself every day as I interact in the realm that all of my past teachers have called “the real world.” I talked to parents in the Triad who are sending their children off (to kindergarten and college) and asked what their advice would be in this transitional time.
Acey Holmes lives in Winston-Salem, and she is sending off her son Hudson to kindergarten at Moore Magnet Elementary School.
Holmes wrote in a Facebook message that Hudson is nervous because he knows his friends from preschool will be attending different schools. Holmes said she is excited but a little anxious as well. She wrote that she is excited because she knows that Hudson loves books and reading, however her biggest concern for him is, “That his busy little body and mind won’t fit in the mold of current traditional education.”
Danielle Viator is from Winston-Salem, and she sent off her oldest daughter to kindergarten yesterday. Viator said she is excited that her daughter (whom we won’t name for safety concerns) is attending Speas Global Elementary, which she describes as a diverse International Baccalaureate school with a dual-immersion program.
“I am excited for her to learn all about the different cultures and languages,” she said. “When we first toured the school, all the teachers are from different countries, they are very global-minded, and I was super excited about that part of it to make sure she doesn’t grow up in the little Winston-Salem bubble.”
Viator’s daughter has attended daycare and preschool since she was 2 1/2 years old, so she is used to being apart from her mom all day.
“We are used to some of the drop off situations and being apart all day, so I think she will be all right,” Viator said. “She said she is a little nervous (right now she is at the top of her class and soon she will be lowest on the totem pole) about being the smallest at big kids’ school.”
Viator said despite her daughter being a little nervous, she is overall excited. Viator, however, has mixed emotions.
“I am excited because I know she is looking forward to it, and nervous with this being the first time that I can’t just call in and check on her like I can at daycare, or just pop in and take her whenever I need to,” she said. “It is scary with all the craziness that has been happening in our world– with school shootings and everything– it is a little terrifying to think that I am just leaving her out there.”
Viator is confident that her child will adjust just fine because she is a “smart kid who loves challenges.”
Carol Smith and her daughter Kadia Joseph are originally from Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Smith said they both had dual citizenship and moved to the Triad last year so that they could both go back to school and be together to make up for lost time. Smith said she worked and was not around her daughter for a lot of her childhood because Joseph went to live with her father on a different island at age 9.
“When she was ready to go off to college, I realized that I did not instill a lot of the life skills that I wanted to instill in her,” Smith said. “Another reason why I came as well is because, from our country, we are taught that the South and the North Carolina area are racial areas, and I was afraid for her in those regards, so I wanted to protect her as well.”
Joseph is attending North Carolina A&T State University and is in her sophomore year pursuing a degree in physical therapy. Smith will be attending school online (possibly at Salem College) to finish her bachelor’s degree in marketing. She said she started working toward her degree when she was still pregnant with Joseph. Smith completed her associate degree in graphic design but had to stop her schooling to care for her sick mother. Smith said as an artist as well as a former small business owner; she has found refuge with like-minded people in Winston-Salem. She is most concerned about being there for Joseph and making sure she is prepared for school.
“I hope that from my experience and other experiences, that she finds people who empower her and love her and she gets involved with that kind of group that makes her grow,” Smith said. “People are saying to me ‘you left the Virgin Islands, which is paradise, to come here?’ And I am like, ‘this is paradise to me,’ in regards to the architecture, arts, diversity, and being exposed to other than just what a small island can offer you.”
Joseph said her first year of college was successful with the help of her parents and friends she made at college. Joseph is most excited to join extracurricular activities during her sophomore year. Her main piece of advice for first-year students is to look for scholarships and become more open-minded.
“Even $500 can get your books at least, so it doesn’t come out of pocket,” she said. “I think that freshmen coming out of high school should know that not everyone is going to agree with them or like them, so learn to stand on your own. College helps you find yourself and stand behind your opinion and not let others change it. Oh, and time management is very important.”
Joseph said she thinks it is amazing that her mother is going back to school as well.
“Not everyone is going to get what they need at a younger age,” Joseph said. “Or even if they got what they wanted and they found something that they like, and the fact that she is taking the opportunity to go back to school and get that course or degree she is trying to get is amazing.”
Lana Benton is from Winston-Salem and just sent her son, Nicholas, off to Western Carolina University to study middle school science education. Benton said she also has an older daughter living at home who is going to Forsyth Tech as well.
“It is kind of bittersweet,” Benton said of both of her children starting college and the next stages of their lives. “You still have one at home, but now all the sudden your baby, your only boy is 200 miles away, so there is not that oversight and there is a little bit of worry attached to it. But, you know, also confidence that he’s a good kid, he’s smart, he’s been raised right, he understands discipline, but he still has got that young boy that is always going to be there.”
Benton said her biggest concerns are the same concerns she had of him in high school, which were making sure he was studying, doing his homework, paying attention in class and being social. Benton said she also worries about him making the right choices. Benton’s advice for other parents sending their child off to school is to “allow them to experience it.”
“You raised them to the point with this goal of giving them their independence, and let them learn and let them experience it,” she said. “You are always going to be there but, experience is the best teacher.”
She also said for parents and future students to “do their homework early,” prepare financially, research colleges and figure out how to get into college because she said it is getting harder and harder to get accepted these days. Benton said because Nicholas has developed his own career path and is confident in what he wants to do, she is excited for him and feels more at ease.
“As parents, we spent the last 18 years somewhat controlling our children’s lives, and it is OK to give up control,” she said. “If you have questions or are struggling with your child going away, there are always other parents that are doing exactly the same thing you are, that are going through the same things you are, you probably know a lot of them already especially through your kid’s schooling, but just keep that support system for yourself.”
Kimberly Kenney lives in Winston-Salem, and she just sent her youngest off to North Carolina State University.
“It was a little chaotic, and I have been really stressed out about it for months actually, and it went a whole lot more quick and painless than I thought it would,” Kenney said of taking her daughter to college. “It wasn’t until I got home that I got super sad about it.”
Kenney said she misses her daughter, Brenna, but she knows she is having the time of her life. Kenney said her oldest son is in his fourth year at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, so sending off a child to college wasn’t something she experienced for the first time.
“That was like a totally different experience,” Kenney said of her son attending UNCG. “I don’t know if it is the boys versus girls thing or if its youngest versus oldest, or maybe a mix of both, but I definitely didn’t dread it nearly as bad to take him.”
Kenney said she and Brenna used to work at River Birch Lodge together for three years, so she misses her in many areas in her life. Kenney said she is most worried about other people because she is very confident in her daughter’s choices and behavior.
“I am the most worried about other students, other kids influencing her,” Kenney said. “I am just nervous about her being away from home, not being able to lay eyes on her on a regular basis and if anything is going on with her, not being able to know it until Christmas or Thanksgiving.”
Kenney said Brenna is going into the engineering program at NC State, so she is also worried about her daughter being stressed out and her time management skills. She is most excited for Brenna to get started with her life, and since she earned college credits in high school, she is excited that Brenna will be starting college with 40 credits.
“We spent the last couple months, my husband and I, learning new hobbies for ourselves,” she said of adjusting to an empty nest. “We have been doing some indoor rock climbing; I have joined some new groups–There is a group called Women Who Hike–so just really putting some emphasis on me. I have been a parent for my entire adult life (I had my son when I turned 20 years old). The idea of being a parent on a daily basis was time-consuming for me. And I decided, when I got the suggestion from another parent who was going through the same thing, that I needed to find a way to focus on myself. I started doing these things months before it was time to send her away. So now that she is gone, those things are already in place, and I am already in the swing of these hobbies, and I am not at a loss to do with my time.”
Kenney said it is OK to feel both sad and happy when sending a child off to school. She said it is also OK for parents to share those feelings with their children because they need to know that they are missed but also that their parents are excited about their future.
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.