Baumgartner Vaughan: Back-to-school and being kind

Aug. 23, 2014 @ 08:18 PM

For some reason, my most vivid childhood memory of a back-to-school night is not my own school, but my sister’s. We were living in Augusta, Georgia, (the suburb of Martinez, to be specific) and she was starting junior high. It was the 1980s. I was still in elementary school. I can picture the evening. There were trailers, not just the main building. It was crowded. She got a souvenir light blue plastic mug. Maybe it was the mug. It was a cool mug. What has stayed with me is the feeling of newness – our family of four checking out a new school where my older sister would go. I don’t recall being upset she went to a different school. It was just different not being in the same school together anymore.

We lived in Georgia for three years when my dad was stationed at Fort Gordon. Before that, we moved every one or two years, so three years in one place seemed like a really long time, to a kid anyway. I know what it feels like to be the new kid. The last move was a month into sixth grade, back up to Northern Virginia. That was a big change from Georgia. It was hard. I went from lots of friends to no friends. I was sad for weeks at the new school. But eventually I made friends and life went on. I received a competitive education in solid public schools.
What being the new kid did for me – and likely countless other military brats – is make me nicer to other new kids, because I know what it’s like. Really, a lesson from being in a military family is to think about those other than yourself. It also made me comfortable in new situations, which comes in handy as a reporter.
My first-grader’s back-to-school night was a few days ago. As he checked out his new classroom and saw friends from kindergarten who were in the same class, I chatted with another parent. Her first-grader had transferred from a different local school, so she was new. I called my son over and introduced him to the new girl.
Little kids usually make friends easily, but not necessarily. A little kindness goes a long way. So do manners. Growing up, my mom always stressed being kind to others. I tell my son that if he ever sees a kid standing on the side at recess or whatever activity, to go over and ask him or her to play. They might say no, but it’s still important to invite them. I still remember the people who asked me to play – from elementary school through college and new jobs over the years. Being friendly is perennial.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563. Follow on Twitter @dawnbvaughan.