ELKINS - Beginning a new school year offers the opportunity for new learning, challenges and fun. And this year, 5-year old Olivia Gardner continues her lifelong journey of learning as she enters the first grade at Third Ward Elementary.
Olivia's first day of kindergarten was captured last year in photos and an article by The Inter-Mountain.
Livy - that's what everyone calls her now - was very excited for her first day of classes this year, after attending a Back To School Night last Wednesday, the evening before school started.
"I am very nervous but not scared like last year," Livy said as she and her parents, Cory and Tisha Gardner, walked to school Aug. 14. "I didn't even need a bracelet."
Last year, Livy wore a bracelet each day to help her cope with the newness of attending school, being separated from her family and pets. It reminded her she was safe and loved.
As the trio rounded the corner and Third Ward Elementary came into sight, her parents appeared to slow their pace - but Livy danced and strained on their hand-holds to hurry faster. At the edge of the school, Livy quickly turned and gave big hugs and kisses to her mom and dad, and dashed off to begin first grade.
Livy was sporting a teal shirt featuring an illustration of a big hoot owl, leggings and new tennis shoes. For first grade, she chose to try a new haircut which is shorter than last year's 'doo. Livy said she loves owls and chose the outfit because it was one of her favorites.
Once inside the school with her first-grade teacher, Cathy Duffield, Livy and her fellow students went to their new room, where they found their names and sat in their seats. Students are arranged in pods - tables that are low, the perfect fit for first-graders.
"I like first grade," Livy said. "I wanted to have my own desk, and now I do. I sit in Pod 3 - it's a pod, like a pea pod."
Once everyone was in the classroom, Duffield asked who liked blueberry muffins - hands all across the room shot up. Livy was very excited for muffins. The class lined up to go eat breakfast, eventually making their way to the lunchroom.
"Eating meals is different this year," Livy said. "We raise our hands and get to dump our trays. Then we sit and wait for everybody else."
Back in the classroom, Livy and her classmates formed a circle and each one told what they did over the summer. There was no shyness when it was Livy's turn. She jumped up and told her friends she ran and played and rode her bicycle.
"I like playing with my mom and dad and my dog, Bella," Livy told the others. "But my favorite thing is riding my bike."
As the day went on, Livy yawned and looked a bit sleepy.
"When we put Livy to bed last night, she woke up at 10 p.m. and said she was ready to go to school," Tisha said. "She went back to sleep, but came and got us up at 6:30 a.m. because she was so excited to start school."
Recess during the first day of school in kindergarten found Livy mostly alone and watching the other students play. This year was quite a different scene. First grade students play at the "big kids playground," and Livy dashed out the door and bounded over the hill, past the "little kids playground." The play area offers many big swings, slides, bridges and climbing opportunities.
Livy climbed the poles, slid down the slides and laughed and played with others. After a few minutes, she and some other girls nestled under the equipment and talked and played in the sand together.
After school the first day, during which Livy said she did not do "any hard stuff," Livy walked home with her parents to enjoy dinner, her animals and talking about how her first day of first grade went.
"I really enjoyed lunch - I love cheese pizza," Livy said. "I got tired. I think I got up too early, but I wanted to get to school. While I was there, I drew a flower and put Mom on one side and Dad on the other. I also drew my fish and, of course, Bella."
Livy said she liked the name tags on the top of her desk and she liked being on a different playground.
"First graders play at the big kid playground," Livy said. "It has bigger things to play on. I like it better because there are more of us there."
She said she also likes her classroom better this year.
"I like having my own desk," Livy said. "But there is no bathroom in the room. I don't like that."
Tisha said she and Cory felt a little sad about sending Livy back to school.
"We were not ready for her to go back this year," Tisha said. "It just seems like the summer was too short."
Livy's parents were happy she adapted to school so well for first grade, however.
"She was not as apprehensive this year to begin school and that was helpful," Tisha said. "What really helps is we know the system now. That makes it feel not so overwhelming. And the staff at Third Ward School does a wonderful job and makes the kids feel at ease."
Livy said she is looking forward to reading stories, playing in gym with parachutes and music with Dr. Scott Green.
"I like Dr. Green - he is funny," Livy said. "I like learning to count music and seeing all the instruments. I like to practice singing 'Hot Cross Buns' and 'Old Dan Tucker.'"
There were no tears this year for Olivia Gardner as she embarked on a new chapter of her life - first grade at Third Ward Elementary School.