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As kindergarten looms, kids take first step away

It's a rite of passage for both parent and child: kindergarten orientation, the first day in a long journey.

By EVE HOSLEY-MOORE
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 10, 2002


On a recent Friday morning, a wiggling line of parents and future kindergarteners winds around the perimeter of the Dale Mabry Elementary School cafeteria, moving slowly toward the orange juice and donuts.

Hands clutch parents' legs. Eyes peek from behind knees.

Welcome to kindergarten orientation: the first day of the rest of life.

"You'll have lots of fun in kindergarten," Principal Joyce Wieland tells the group of prospective students.

She wears a bright blue suit, the color of the Dale Mabry Elementary School's "Mighty Dolphins."

Packs of preschoolers tour the campus. They visit the front office, the school nurse and classes already in progress. First-time parents stay in the cafeteria for a question and answer forum, while veteran parents take the tour.

One stop: Kathy Partin's kindergarten class.

Little ones shuffle into the brightly colored school room, sitting on the floor front and center, filling in spots left open by the regular students.

"Good morning, class," Partin says.

Her students reply in unison. The newly seated children glance around the room nervously, realizing they missed a cue.

Lesson No. 1: Say in lilting singsong voice, "Good morning, Mrs. Partin."

Back in the cafeteria, Parent Teacher Association volunteers hand out registration forms, emergency release cards and a 14-page kindergarten handbook. Parents learn the rules: Children must bring a backpack including a box of tissues, a bottle of antibacterial soap, a pack of eight crayons and a bottle of Elmer's Glue. Teachers give a star for excellent work and a check for incomplete work.

"How can my child get tested for the gifted program?" one mom asks.

After three minutes, the children switch rooms.

Jacob Ramos, 4, admits he likes the idea of attending school. His older siblings talk about school all the time.

"I have friends here," he says.

"He's so excited," says his mom, Susan.

Kindergarten teacher Martha Scott's classroom is the disco of the tour. A circa 1950s portable record player spins out a rockin' rendition of Humpty Dumpty. Her class jumps and jiggles to choreographed moves.

Among the new kids, a few brave souls dance.

The teacher leans down to 4-year-old Kevin Hewlett and says, 'I know your brother.'

Startled, Kevin turns to his mom, Beni, balanced on tiny blue chair, her knees bent nearly to her shoulders.

"That was Conner's teacher," she whispers back.

His eyes light up in understanding.

Dale Mabry Elementary school students wear a school uniform: red, white or blue shirts with a collar with navy blue or khaki shorts, pants or skirts. Children bring towels for rest time, not blankets.

Sharon Reed's class is in alphabetical order. Students form an off-center circle around the room, little hands holding a laminated flash card bearing a letter. They practice their ABCs as the younger children watch.

One chatty group clutches the letters M through P.

They are asked: Do they remember kindergarten orientation?

"I was a little scared," says Cassidy Hampton, 6.

"I was kind of scared," adds Kimberly Torres, 6.

"I don't remember," says Cory McNair, 5. He fidgets with his sneaker and blurts out, "Okay. I was crying."

He covers his face with the letter O.

Back in the cafeteria parents talk excitedly, gathering their children and handfuls of paperwork. Children leave with red, white and blue pencils; others carry blue balloons.

Registration begins in July.

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