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Oliver: New school year spurs mixed emotions

August always has produced mixed emotions in me, even now, so many years out of school.

On the one hand, the return to the classroom meant the “unofficial” end of summer and the end of those unstructured, make-it-up-as-you-went-along days of outdoor play.

My brother and I would ride our bikes around our 5-mile “block,” go looking for crayfish in a nearby creek, and wander around in the cornfields behind our house along Draper Road near McHenry.

If I were completely honest, some of those unstructured days held a little boredom, too, but I’d gladly take that now. Those still young enough to have them have little idea how lucky they are.

Still, there was some sadness as the school year beckoned. Sooner rather than later the leaves would begin to turn and the weather would get colder.

On the other hand, there was excitement, too. After all, I was always one of those kids who loved school.

Sure, there was a little fear in the school year’s unknowns, particularly when it was a new school or a new teacher or new classmates.

Usually, though, that fear soon was replaced by the anticipation of learning new things, of buying school supplies and of getting a new outfit or two.

I remember how excited I was when I got to bring a new metal Scooby-Doo lunchbox to school one year.

At least I still have the new office supplies and outfits to look forward to. And I did just buy a new lunchbox, albeit a soft-sided, pink plaid one.

Then there was the chance to reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen all summer, in those days before constant text messaging and social media. And there were the inevitable “what I did last summer” conversations.

On the home front, my mother always made sure to talk up how much fun the new school year would be, and she made sure that we were well-prepared, knowing when our bus would pick us up, who our teacher would be and what supplies we needed to have when.

Then she would ask us each day what homework we had, what forms she needed to sign and what the next day required.

In other words, she took an active part in our education. Our teachers always knew they had an ally.

My teachers, for the most part, returned to the classroom with an enthusiasm and excitement that was infectious.

Good thing, too, since even this good student sometimes would have off days when it was hard to stay awake and the material was less than mentally stimulating.

Luckily, there were more good days than bad. Honest.

So here’s to another start to another school year. May it be an exciting, interesting and knowledge-filled journey of discovery for you, kids.

And may your teachers and parents do their part to keep you engaged in the process.

Happy learning!

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at

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