WALLINGFORD — Standing in front of Cook Hill School Wednesday, Kristine Friend watched as the buses pulled up. The doors opened and one by one, smiling students got off.
“Good morning!” Friend said, shaking each hand and smiling.
“She’s nice,” one student said to her friend.
Friend could relate to students as they started another year, especially the one’s attending Cook Hill for the first time.
It was her first day as Cook Hill principal.
Before the students arrived, Friend was in the main office making last-minute preparations. She greeted staff members and answered questions,
“I’m happy to be here, but absolutely; I’m nervous,” Friend said. “But I feel at the end of the day, happy and safe children is what matters most. We’re ready for them.”
Friend walked around the school, stopping at each classroom to introduce herself. Friend told a kindergarten class she was excited to have them at Cook Hill. Before leaving, she asked if anyone had a question.
“I have a cavity!” said one student, as Friend laughed.
“If that’s the worse of our problems, I think we’re doing pretty well,” Friend said as she left the classroom.
In one class, Friend saw a student was crying and took her into the hallway. Kneeling on the floor in the middle of the hall, Friend talked with the student, cheering her up and encouraging her to make friends in her new class.
Nearly an hour into her first day at Cook Hill, Friend was more relaxed.
“Children are so accepting and so special. They have this ability to calm and feel at ease — there’s just a presence about them,” Friend said. “The little girl with the cavity — those little moments are so important because they validate a child’s thinking, concerns, hopes and dream.”
Friend said the next challenge was dismissal. She scheduled a practice dismissal drill an hour before school ended to ensure students got on the right bus.
At Pond Hill School, Principal Danielle Bellizzi was also completing her first day as a principal in Wallingford.
Bellizzi visited classes around the school at the end of the day to ask students how the first day went.
“Hi everyone! I hope you had a great first day,” Bellizzi told a class of third-graders.
“I know you have a lot of papers going into those folders for mom and dad.”
She was nervous, she said, as it got closer to dismissal. She worked with the main office staff to help students make sure they were getting on the right bus.
As the buses started to arrive in the school’s parking lot, she walked with the students.
While most students got on the correct bus, some students missed theirs or weren’t sure which bus to get on.
Using walkie-talkies, Bellizzi talked with staff and was able to solve any problems quickly.
“I was nervous,” she said of the end of the day.
“You want to make sure the kids are safe and comfortable on their bus and once they saw us double check they were on the right bus, they were fine.”
Her first day in Wallingford went well.
“You just want the children to be happy and safe,” she said.