The term “back to school” represents different things for different people. For me, growing up in Virginia, it meant I’d soon be walking home from school with friends, throwing the football back and forth among the “crunch, crunch, crunch” of brown, yellow and red fallen leaves.

Here at EBS, we remember this time of year, and we each have different memories. We wanted to mirror the same fresh approach to returning to school that students and teachers take into each new school year. We asked five people returning to their respective institutions to tell us what back to school means to them. Here are their stories. – J.T.O.

Devious plots foiled

Jeremy_Harder_headshotI was 10 and it was my first day of fifth grade, a time when social nuances begin to develop: Your world perspective includes how others see you and how you fit into your social and academic hierarchy.

My parents owned a natural food store since the 1970s, and before healthy foods were “cool” like they are now, I had to eat them. Our bread was brown and had thick crusts coated with nuts and seeds. My yogurt was plain and wasn’t colored red or blue. My carrot sticks didn’t have a sidecar of ranch. My cookies were made from carob and honey not coated in rich frosting or packed with chocolate chips.

My parents wouldn’t spend money on a hot lunch so I was left with a decision. Battling a low self-esteem, while attempting to be the coolest kid in the classroom wasn’t happening. This brown-bagged healthy lunch thing was going to destroy my popularity.

I devised a plan that only later in high school was unraveled; it still gets laughs at family gatherings. I took the brown paper bags filled with healthy food in plastic ziplocks and tossed them in the tall grass near our bus stop at the end of our driveway. Ingenious right? Not even my parents, but least of all my classmates, would ever know I didn’t bring these lunches to school. My self-esteem was satisfied.

Years later my true, unscrupulous identity was uncovered when my father finally mowed the tall grass, only to find 157 Ziplock bags of rotten carrots, moldy whole wheat bread sandwiches, and spoiled organic yogurt.

Most lessons we learn much later in life. One I recognize and try to teach my fourth-graders is, “Be true to yourself, your friends (and family), and your work.”

– Jeremy Harder, Fourth-grade teacher, Ophir Elementary


The commute

Dustin_Shipman_headshotGrowing up in an agricultural community in Helena, back-to-school day always represented an end to work for the summer, so my sister and I were more than obliged to tolerate my mother’s pictures, hair brushing, and insistence on being extremely clean for the first day.

The strongest memory I have of returning to school is the bus ride. For my entire school life, I rode the bus an hour and a half to school each way. We were just far enough out of the route that we were the first kids on the bus at 5:45 a.m. and the last dropped off at 5 p.m.

Interestingly, my sister and I were the only ones on the bus for nearly 40 minutes of that time. So the first day of school was always one of tiredness and transitioning to the daily three-hour commute. Unfortunately, we did not use that time wisely and always had homework when we returned. We squandered many commuting miles, a habit I still wrestle with today.

– Dustin Shipman, Superintendent, Big Sky School District


A Lisa Frank fresh start

Alexa_Dzintars_headshotWhen I was younger, I looked forward to back-to-school shopping like it was Christmas. In August, the Sunday ads would start featuring folders and notebooks instead of flip-flops and beach toys, and I knew it wouldn’t be much longer before my mom announced the special day.

She’d take me to the store and I’d race to find the list for my class before setting out on a mission to find the coolest version of each item. Glittery pencils, a flexible ruler, scented markers, and anything Lisa Frank were all must-haves.

When we returned home I’d take my new supplies down to my room for processing and handling. After taking everything out of its package, I spread it all out on the floor around me to savor each item’s pristine perfection. I would then find homes for everything in my pencil box. After organizing them with precision, I’d take a final look at my treasures before burying them in my backpack, not to be seen again until the first day of school.

Everyone likes getting new things, sure, but for me it was more than that; these back-to-school items were symbols of a fresh start. The erasers had never seen mistakes, the crayons had never colored outside the lines, and the notebooks had never been scribbled on. They held the promise of a great school year.

Although I’ve traded markers for printer ink and notebooks for a laptop, I still get that feeling when I’m in the bookstore. A wave of excitement rushes through me and I’m ready to start again.

– By Alexa Dzintars, Junior, Montana State University


Only 179 days left

Ellie_Quackenbush_headshotThe first day of school always seems like the most intimidating day of the year. You walk in, hands in your pockets, numb from your days spent sprawled out in the sun.

The first class seems like it’s never going to end. And you wait, in painful silence until the bell rings.

The school is always colder than necessary, and the kids are always louder than you thought humanly possible, but at some point, it all seems bearable. You’ve got 179 days left, and memories to make and classes to take. So you sit down in your first class, and prepare yourself for the rest of your day, and for many more days to come.

– Ellie Quackenbush, Junior, Lone Peak High School


The awakening

Dasha_Bough_headshotBack to school. Every year, sometime during mid-August, I start to hear these words and – I’ll admit it – I can’t help but cringe a little. Why? Preparing for school a few days ago, I asked myself this very question.

Why does going back to school have such a negative connotation? When I took the time to think about it, I realized what made me cringe was probably as simple as this: School has a stereotype of being routine and predictable, of lacking the exciting spontaneity of summer. This seems especially true in a small town. You’ve grown accustomed, or at least that’s what you convince yourself.

So, when Aug. 31 rolled around, I trudged off to school, the same backpack weighing on my shoulders, the boring box of No. 2 pencils in hand. I thought I knew what was coming. I thought I had everything down.

As I stepped through the doors of Lone Peak High School that morning – the door being held open by a bright-eyed fifth-grader – I was swept up in a whirlwind of excited voices, new dresses and clip-on bow-ties, and best of all: new faces.

Within the first half hour of class, I had introduced myself six times, peeked into new classrooms, memorized the names of new teachers, marveled at the new k-4 school and larger high school layout. I questioned my entire attitude toward school, and found myself feeding off of my peers’ excitement and regaining my own thirst for knowledge.

I had forgotten that learning is not only a joy, but a luxury. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything quite like the synergy on the first day of school. On Aug. 31, I didn’t merely wake up to a new day. I woke up to a new year.

– Dasha Bough, Junior, Lone Peak High School