GENOA – Katie Rich couldn’t help tearing up as she watched her oldest son, Brayden, pass through the doors at Davenport Elementary.
It was Brayden’s first day of kindergarten, and Katie, her husband Rich, their two younger sons and her mother, Barbara Huspen, had come to watch from the curb. After he disappeared into the building, Katie’s hands let her camera hang at her neck to wipe away sudden tears.
“I had been excited, and then all of a sudden at the last second, it just makes you feel proud of what you’ve done,” Rich said.
Brayden and about 100 new classmates made an emotional commute Friday morning, but most DeKalb County kindergartners won’t begin until this week or next.
It’s a big transition for little students, so local educators say it’s important for parents to know how their child’s school handles that big first day.
“Never feel like you shouldn’t ask a question,” Andria Mitchell, the principal at DeKalb’s Tyler Elementary School, said. “No question is a dumb question, especially when you’re sending your most prized possession into the care of people you really don’t know.”
DeKalb School District 428 kindergartners don’t start class until Aug. 28, but the district encourages parents to participate in conferences beforehand to learn about their child’s school and teacher.
“They can meet the teacher; they can drop off all their supplies; they can see their classroom; they can see their cubbie, that way there’s not that apprehension or that anxiety,” Mitchell said. “Also, it gives parents a chance to bond with the teacher and have that face-to-face conversation.”
Kindergartners in Sycamore School District 427 follow a similar format. Teachers will meet with parents and their children in small groups during the first week.
Davenport leaders took a similar approach for their students. Parents went through a one-and-a-half-hour orientation session in the days leading up to the first day. They took pictures, met with faculty and staff and learned about procedures, so that the first day would be a breeze.
When it came to say goodbye to their parents on their first day, students at Davenport did so outside the building.
“This year is the first year that parents aren’t allowed to come in with the children, because of the safety issue,” Audrey Campbell, who has taught kindergarten at Davenport for 12 years. “I think it is going to be a real positive for the children that have separation anxiety. By not having the parent come into the school, they know, this is for the child – this is for me – and I’ll see mom right after school.”
Although it’s only in its third year as an elementary school, Founders Elementary in DeKalb still hangs on to that old tradition of parents coming into their child’s kindergarten classroom on the first day.
“The parents can come into the building and go into the classroom, and then we usually give them about 10 minutes or so, and then we start saying, ‘Time to go’ “ Founders Principal Gina Greenwald said.
Mitchell suggested that parents become active in their child’s education so that they can drop off their child every day with confidence.
“Communicate with your teacher and with the principal, and be active,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s a really good way to get to know the other teachers, the staff, other parents, for that support.”
Kathy Spiewak, the principal at North Elementary school in Sycamore had similar advice.
“The most important part for the parent is to know that we are all community and that we want their kids to succeed, and when we say we have an open-door policy, we do,” she said.
When it comes to letting go successfully on the big day, Greenwald suggested that parents try their best to hold back the tears.
“Be happy about it,” she said. “It’s a great adventure for your child. If a parent takes it that way and says, ‘This is going to be the best year, you’re going to have so much fun,’ the child picks up on that energy.”
Katie Rich might not have succeeded in that realm, but her husband Jeff Rich made it a point.
“[Brayden] will make friends,” he said. “He’ll actually want to be there more than home probably.”
Starting days for area schools
Genoa-Kingston District 424: Started Wednesday
Indian Creek District 425: Started Thursday
Hiawatha District 426: Started Friday
Somonauk District 432: Starts Aug. 19
Sycamore District 427: Starts Aug. 21
St. Mary’s Catholic School - Sycamore: Starts Aug. 21
Hinckley-Big Rock District 429: Starts Aug. 21
Sandwich District 430: Starts Aug. 23
St. Mary School - DeKalb: Starts Aug. 26
Cornerstone Christian Academy: Starts Aug. 26
DeKalb District 428: Starts Aug. 28
Source: District web sites, principals