The four first-graders were sitting in a basement room at St. Monica School usually used for testing.
Josette White, a blonde, was wearing a navy blue school jacket over a white polo shirt and navy shorts. Next to her, best friend Maria Knierim also had on a school jacket, but with a gray polo and navy pants. Her long pigtails were tied with yellow bands.
Matthew O’Boyle had his sandy hair parted casually, preppy style, and his jacket zipped up. And Noah Soriano’s black hair was shaped in an old-fashioned bowl cut. The only student without a jacket, he had on a grey polo and blue pants. His mischievous smile gave him away — right away — as the class clown.
In four weeks, the 7-year-olds will be on their way to second grade. But on this Friday morning, the two boys and two girls gathered to reflect on what they had learned in first grade and other related matters.
“Well, I really liked math because we have iPads and we get to go into Dream Box to do math-learning games,” said Josette. “It’s really fun. And, like, we pick lessons and unlock treasures.”
Maria was nodding: “My favorite thing that I learned was definitely math. I know that some people say, ‘Oh, that’s really boring.’ But it’s the complete opposite. It’s really, really fun. Last year it wasn’t. But this year I see math in a whole different way.”
The iPads impressed Matthew, too. He remarked, “There’s a lot of cool different kinds of apps, and I really loved the projects,” in a loud voice. “I made a Lego city, and I put cars on it. The other project I liked was a recycling project for Earth Day. I made a rocket.”
Inspecting this reporter’s note pad and tape recorder, Noah glanced up to acknowledge, “I liked learning about time. And money.”
The most difficult subject for Josette at the parochial school, ironically, was religion. “I’m not Catholic, Jewish or Christian,” she explained. “So it was the hardest thing for me to learn. But I learned about how Jesus rose from the dead. That was interesting.”
No subject was actually burdensome, according to the other three students. “They were all really fun, so it took the hard part away,” observed Maria.
All reported that they made some good friends in first grade. But a wordy disagreement broke out between the girls and boys — who had been together in St. Monica’s kindergarten — over how many new students joined their class this year.
Until Josette declared, “I’m talking!”
It was Maria, however, who spoke up. “I made a lot of friends because I was new in kindergarten,” she recalled. “Like, I had just moved from Chicago to here, and I felt really nervous because, you know, I had never been here before.
“I just made a lot of friends. And it helped. I felt more at home, and I felt more comfortable, and it feels really good to be here.” She was looking at Josette now, which made them both giggle.
Next the issue dear to the heart of every student came up: What about your teacher? In this case, Miss Elizabeth Nuzzolese, who has been plying her trade for seven years, including four in first grade at St. Monica.
“I like how she gives us the topic,” said Matthew. “She tells us about it. Then gives us some problems. Then we do harder stuff.” He thought for a moment before saying, “But she’s a really kind teacher. Because if you forget your snack, she might give you one of hers. And she’s smart. She tells us things I don’t think guys know about.”
Now Noah was nodding. “She’s kind and a good teacher because she lets us go on iPads a lot,” he said. “She teaches me what I already know, but it’s a little harder.”
Josette had another take on Miss. Nuzzolese. “She helps us solve problems if we need to,” she pointed out. “She lets us get a Band-Aid if we’re hurt. And she’s a really fun teacher, only about half a quarter strict.”
About the strict part, Maria confided, “We were having a little trouble because we were constantly talking in class. And then Miss Nuzzles said, ‘If you don’t … blah, blah, blah.’”
That made even the boys crack up.
“But, otherwise, I just think she’s a really great teacher,” the little girl in pigtails noted.
The first-graders were starting to fidget now in the basement room. But there was one last query to address: So how do you feel about going into second grade?
“I’m a little scared and I’m also a little bit excited,” Josette said. “Because the second grade teacher is Mr. A. That’s what we call him. And everyone who’s been in second grade says Mr. A. is awesome.”
Noah — whose mother teaches at St. Monica and older sibling is a student at the Catholic school — was making another face. “It doesn’t scare me,” he said. “Because I have been in the second grade classroom because of my sister. Now she’s in fifth grade.”