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Students get new school experiences with private-to-public transition

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By Kelly Cantrall

The first days of school are a transition period for many students — kindergarteners starting their first day and sixth-graders navigating hallways of middle schools.

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For some students, the first day brings a change in the school system, when they leave smaller, private school surroundings to attend a larger, public high school.

Sarah Erckenbrack, 15, a sophomore at Elizabethtown High School, and Molly Emdee, 14, a sophomore at North Hardin High School, experienced that transition when they were high school freshmen. Erckenbrack and Emdee found differences among their new and former schools, but both feel they’ve benefited from attending both.

Erckenbrack attended private schools through elementary and middle school, including St. James Regional Catholic School. When she entered her eighth grade year at St. James, she and her parents considered private high schools, including Sacred Heart Academy in Louisville and Bethlehem High School in Bardstown. But cost and transportation were issues and the family ultimately decided on Elizabethtown High School.

Emdee, also a former St. James student, knew she would attend North Hardin, where her older brother was a student. Despite having a family member who already had taken the same path, his advice didn’t really provide comfort, she said.

“I was still really nervous for the first day of school,” she said.

Moving schools was nothing new for Erckenbrack, who has moved frequently as a member of a military family. But her freshman year still would be her first experience attending a public school.

“I honestly thought it would be a lot different,” she said.

But many of her worries were similar to all freshmen starting their high school experience — a fear of getting lost in the building, not being able to open her locker and being surrounded by people she had never met.

But her fears ultimately weren’t realized.

“I was sort of surprised that everyone was really open,” she said.

No longer having to wear a uniform was “pretty big,” she said.

“Wearing my own clothes was pretty cool,” she said, though having to understand a new dress code sometimes proved difficult.

Emdee said her first day “passed by in a blur.”

“There’s just so many more people than you’re used to,” she said.

The lack of a uniform was a standout for Emdee as well.

“That was really the first time I got to wear jeans and a T-shirt to school,” she said.

Erckenbrack said while her fellow former St. James classmates eased into their new environments at different speeds, everyone eventually reached a comfort level.

“I don’t really know anyone who had lots of trouble,” she said.

Both Erckenbrack and Emdee said their private school experiences prepared them for high school classwork and brought a closeness to their classmates they sometimes miss.

“I was really close to all of my classmates. Ee were kind of a big family,” Emdee said.

Both girls felt their public schools brought a variety of people into their lives. For Erckenbrack, Elizabethtown High “opened my eyes a little bit to the people around us and to things you’ve never noticed before,” she said.

Emdee agreed.

“You meet people with different attitudes and different views more than you do in a private school,” she said.

Ultimately, Erckenbrack welcomed the changes that came her way.

“Life’s an adventure, so every day there’s something new,” she said.

She and Emdee encourage students making the same transition to try new activities at their new schools. Emdee joined the cross country team and was elected freshmen class president.

“They should think about it as almost a new beginning and a chance to get involved in things,” she said.

Kelly Cantrall can be reached at 270-505-1747 or kcantrall@thenewsenterprise.com.