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School Picture Day in Piermont: A Portrait

  • Piermont Village School teacher Brenda Bianchi takes a look at first-grader Tiffany Menard while second-graders Camden Clawson, second from right, and Mike Hogan wait in line on Oct. 17, 2013 in Piermont, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Piermont Village School teacher Brenda Bianchi takes a look at first-grader Tiffany Menard while second-graders Camden Clawson, second from right, and Mike Hogan wait in line on Oct. 17, 2013 in Piermont, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lifetouch photographer Karen Burke sets up her portable studio at the Piermont Village School on Oct. 17, 2013, in Piermont, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Lifetouch photographer Karen Burke sets up her portable studio at the Piermont Village School on Oct. 17, 2013, in Piermont, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • While photographer Karen Burke takes the picture, instructional assistants (from left) Shari Tkac and Taylor Wakefield and special education teacher Allison Malcolm try to get a big smile from a student during picture day at the Piermont Village School on Oct. 17, 2013. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    While photographer Karen Burke takes the picture, instructional assistants (from left) Shari Tkac and Taylor Wakefield and special education teacher Allison Malcolm try to get a big smile from a student during picture day at the Piermont Village School on Oct. 17, 2013. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Piermont Village School kindergartener Rowan Reeves has his picture taken at the school on Oct. 17, 2013, in Piermont, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Piermont Village School kindergartener Rowan Reeves has his picture taken at the school on Oct. 17, 2013, in Piermont, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sixth-grader Matthew Monaghan checks his hair in a mirror that classmate Zach Ferro holds at the Piermont Village School on Oct. 17, 2013. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Sixth-grader Matthew Monaghan checks his hair in a mirror that classmate Zach Ferro holds at the Piermont Village School on Oct. 17, 2013. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kindergarten students Rose Paquin, left, and Chyanne O'Neil hold a stuffed animal to get a classmate to smile while Karen Burke takes the photograph at the Piermont Village School in Piermont, N.H., on Oct. 17, 2013. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Kindergarten students Rose Paquin, left, and Chyanne O'Neil hold a stuffed animal to get a classmate to smile while Karen Burke takes the photograph at the Piermont Village School in Piermont, N.H., on Oct. 17, 2013. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Piermont Village School teacher Brenda Bianchi takes a look at first-grader Tiffany Menard while second-graders Camden Clawson, second from right, and Mike Hogan wait in line on Oct. 17, 2013 in Piermont, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Lifetouch photographer Karen Burke sets up her portable studio at the Piermont Village School on Oct. 17, 2013, in Piermont, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • While photographer Karen Burke takes the picture, instructional assistants (from left) Shari Tkac and Taylor Wakefield and special education teacher Allison Malcolm try to get a big smile from a student during picture day at the Piermont Village School on Oct. 17, 2013. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Piermont Village School kindergartener Rowan Reeves has his picture taken at the school on Oct. 17, 2013, in Piermont, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Sixth-grader Matthew Monaghan checks his hair in a mirror that classmate Zach Ferro holds at the Piermont Village School on Oct. 17, 2013. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Kindergarten students Rose Paquin, left, and Chyanne O'Neil hold a stuffed animal to get a classmate to smile while Karen Burke takes the photograph at the Piermont Village School in Piermont, N.H., on Oct. 17, 2013. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Piermont — Clothes may make the man, but on school picture day, the coif is what counts. Waiting to be photographed on a recent Thursday, Piermont Village School students nearing the front of the line made last-minute tweaks.

“Is my hair done?” asked 8-year-old Wesley Reeves, his brown locks being combed by classmate Austin Larson. Indeed it was, leaving him a few moments to reflect on the event’s importance.

“My mom likes picture day because she likes to send them to her friends and all her relatives,” said Wesley, whose long-sleeved shirt featured an image of a dragon.

Austin, 9, had also made some special efforts for the occasion.

“I wore one of my fancy shirts,” said Austin, gesturing to his pullover, white with red stripes. And he came up with a new look for his wavy blond hair.

“I combed it back,” he said.

The school is small, just 70 children in preschool to eighth grade, and each class comprises two grade levels. Class by class, they made their way to the gym, where students received the familiar black plastic combs, the last line of defense in the fight against flyaways. The younger the kids, the more help they had from their teachers.

Brenda Bianchi, who teaches grades one and two, worked her way down the line, her charges wiggling and giggling, awaiting their turns. She pulled one girl’s hair into a ponytail and stopped to talk with a sleepy-looking student.

“Oh my, you have bedhead still!” Bianchi said to the boy, who laughed as she combed his hair.

Her efforts did not go unnoticed. After Bianchi passed, Logan Holland complimented his classmate, 7-year-old Landon Kingsbury, a blond boy missing his top front teeth.

“You look so handsome,” said Logan, also 7.

In just a few hours, photographer Karen Burke managed to seat, greet and capture on camera nearly the entire school. Most smiled on cue; others required coaxing. For the youngest children, that meant squeaks from a toy hedgehog or, in extreme cases, gentle tickling.

As they have for decades, the photographs will find their way into Christmas cards and wallets, onto refrigerators and living room walls. If parents and grandparents rely on them as points of reference for how their little ones have grown, the students use them to keep track of themselves and their classmates.

“Every year, my hair is different, so I don’t look the same,” said 11-year-old Piper Sherbert, whose current ’do — long purple locks on one side of her head, brush-cut on the other — is an asymmetrical nod to her favorite color.

“I see how all my friends have grown,” said Piper, whose violet sneakers matched her hair. “It’s pretty amazing how much they change each year.”

With cell phones and computers doubling as cameras, school picture day might one day lose its appeal. But for now, even deep in the digital age, it seems the formal school portrait still has a place.

After having her picture taken, Maureen Foster, 13, stood talking with a handful of classmates in the gym. She takes pictures with her iPod, but she likes having the professional shots for her family, she said. “This is much nicer.”

When the last class had shuffled out, it was time for the staff photograph. Burke gathered 14 women in front of a cluster of sumac, the leaves pale yellow and rusty orange. But someone was missing.

“Carl!” the women shouted in concert. Then, spotting him in the school parking lot, they laughed.

Standing next to his blue Ford pickup truck, Carl Nystrom, the school custodian, passed a comb through his gray hair. Then, he made his way across the grassy field to join his colleagues in the autumn rite.

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.