Niskayuna students face challenges in new school year

Niskayuna High School ninth-graders are, from left, Sabihah Bradford, Dayshia Malandrino and Jadena McDermot on Tuesday. (Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer)Niskayuna High School ninth-graders are, from left, Sabihah Bradford, Dayshia Malandrino and Jadena McDermot on Tuesday. (Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer)

NISKAYUNA — Sarah McClenon is ready for class projects, books, homework and learning.

“It’s hard to give up summer, but I know I’m going to have a great year,” said McClenon, 10, who on Tuesday began the fifth grade at Craig Elementary School. “This year, I’m really going to be organized.”

Hundreds of students reported to Niskayuna schools on a day when the calendar said September but temperatures in the high 80s still said summer. Fans helped move the air in many classrooms, and kids were still dressed in July and August gear — light shirts and shorts.

Kindergarten children and their parents met teachers during orientation sessions. Ninth-graders arrived for their first year at Niskayuna High School and will have more company on Wednesday, as sophomores, juniors and seniors all report for first classes.

Teacher Peter Micieli set the tone for McClenon and others in his classroom with a large note on the room’s whiteboard.

“You are now the leaders of Craig School!” the note stated. “That is a huge responsibility, but I know you are up for the challenge! Do your best and have fun!”

McClenon, whose summer highlights included golf, a sleepover and a visit to Mystic Beach in Connecticut, believes books and homework will lead to elementary accomplishments. Her friend Hannah Cestaro, also 10, believes the same thing.

But for Hannah, the first day of school came with hardships.

“I miss my air-conditioned house, and I had to wake up this morning at 6:20 …. nightmare,” Cestaro said. “I’ve been sleeping until like 10 o’clock, so this is definitely new.”

Both McClenon and Cestaro are aware of their new status as school hotshots — as are Craig’s 73 other fifth-graders.

“We get to be buddies with the kindergarteners,” McClenon said, adding the buddy system means helping younger boys and girls with school projects, watching them on the playground and helping them at bus time during the afternoon.

All part of the plan, according to Craig officials.

“We say to our fifth-grade students, ‘These other children are looking up to you,'” said Micieli, who taught about half of his new students last year as fourth-graders. “When you walk down the hallway, going to the cafeteria, going to the gym, all the other kids in the school are looking at you and your behavior and how you’re handling yourselves.”

Jacob McDonald, 11, said his summer accomplishments included swimming on Cape Cod and plenty of soccer. He is ready for new challenges.

“It seems interesting,” he said of his last year in elementary school. “It seems like yesterday I was starting kindergarten. Now I’m here. We have a whole lot of responsibility now.”

“Now we’re the ones they look up to,” McClenon added. “Now we have to be the leaders.”

Craig Principal Bill Anders, who has been supervising kids at the school since 2005, said fifth-grade students also will make morning announcements over the school’s public address system and raise and lower the American flag each school day.

“They will have different roles throughout life and, sometimes, you will be at the top of your class or the oldest in a particular grade level,” Anders said. “They’ll know what it’s like to be younger, too — but also that anybody can be a leader. You don’t have to be an adult to be a leader. The things you do and say matter. I think that’s the big message.”

Starting high school

While Craig fifth-grade kids were preparing for top status, students who recently left middle school began new scholastic adventures as high school freshmen.

“It’s different — new classes and new classmates,” said Anjolie Ferrara, 14.

Aiden Irish, also 14, looked forward to life in high school.

“I think it will be a fun and exciting year,” he said, adding that he thinks the sophomore, junior and senior members of the student body will be nice to the newest students at Niskayuna High and will help out, if necessary.

Assistant Principal Eva Jones said Tuesday was a big day for the class of 2022. It was a day of transition.

“For many of them, it’s what they’ve been hearing about: ‘Wait til you get to high school,'” Jones said. “We see it as an opportunity for our freshman class to bring us forward into the next generation of Niskayuna High School. We want to make that a great transition for them and help them see what high school can be about.”

New students were also assisted by older students who are part of a mentoring program. Jones believes it’s a way for the kids to get comfortable.

There will be a learning process. New student John Bollock said he got lost in the big building on Balltown Road … “multiple times.”

Contact Daily Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at