Tuesday was a first for everyone in Shannon Hoffbeck's kindergarten class at Mountain View Elementary.
It was the first day of school and a whole new experience for first-year teacher Hoffbeck, her young students, and even some parents.
"I'm kind of freaking out a little. I've just never been without him before. I've always been there," said Ariana Caldwell, dropping off her oldest child Jaedon, 5. "I think that I'm more worried than he is. He was kind of kicking me off, like 'Mom, it's not that long.'"
And, yes, there were some tears from both sides.
"I feel like I'm going to cry," said Stephanie Davis after leaving her son Jerry in Hoffbeck's class. "I'm excited, but it's his first time in school, so it's really hard for me."
One young student had to be coaxed into the classroom by his mom, his face red with tears.
"Kindergarten is so much fun. Oh yes, it's fabulous. Don't cry," the mom said, gently dragging him into the room. "Everybody stays in kindergarten."
The children filtered in with their parents, putting away their new school supplies and hanging up their shiny new backpacks with logos of Transformers and Tinker Bell.
"We'd like to welcome everyone to the first day of school at Mountain View Elementary," said school principal John Cook over the intercom, before beginning the Pledge of Allegiance.
For the first few days of school the 75 enrolled kindergarteners split their days in morning and afternoon sessions to get used to being in school, Cook said.
"It's a challenge early in the year for the children," he said. Most children are not used to being away from their parents or having full days, he said.
But, it's "statistically proven their education will increase with a full day," Cook said, which is the practice district-wide.
Once the children were settled, they worked attentively on name worksheets and played with activities in the "busy buckets" at their tiny worktables.
"I'm excited about this school because it's pretty new," said Gwendylan Case, 5. "I'm really glad I went to this school because I get to wear new outfits and learn new things."
With 465 students, Mountain View Elementary is the biggest elementary school and third-largest school in the district, after Kenai Central and Soldotna High, Cook said.
Currently, there are three kindergarten teachers with 25 students in each class, Cook said. The school is near its limit for class sizes. A relocatable classroom from Sears Elementary will be used as an additional space, he said.
According to Kenai Peninsula Borough School District statistics, the total projected enrollment for the 2010-2011 school year is 9,180 students.
The general feeling in the school and classroom was excitement, even if it was mixed with nerves.
"I never rode on a bus and now I did," said 5-year-old Vincent Reppert, while finishing his worksheet.
Caldwell said her son was looking forward to going to school.
"He was really excited," she said about Jaedon. "I think he likes his teacher. He wanted to draw her a special picture."
But mostly the students seem excited to learn, even if it is not necessarily academic.
"I just want to learn about the new toys," Vincent said.
"We learn a lot of stuff and I learn letters and numbers," Gwendylan said. And if they're good they get to go to recess, she said.
Cook said it's important for kindergartneers to learn social skills and communication.
"For success at kindergarten it's really developing that sense of community in the classroom," he said.
After working and exploring the "busy buckets" at their stations it was time to circle up.
"I need you to stop what you're doing. I'm going to teach you a new song," Hoffbeck said.
She then lead the class in a spirited version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and instructed them to change the second verse to "clean up, clean up where you are."
"So clean up your blocks and your busy buckets. Let's sit on the spaceship carpet once you're done," she said.
On the spaceship carpet, Hoffbeck goes over general classroom rules with the students and talks about the day of the week and the weather, allowing a student to Velcro the words to the calendar.
"When we are at school we raise our hand to talk," she told the kindergarteners. "We need to practice. We're going to be practicing quite a lot."
Originally from Ohio, Hoffbeck met her Alaskan husband at college in Chicago and moved up here with him. She substitute taught for a few years in the district and recently completed her master's degree in teaching. And now she's got her first job and classroom at Mountain View.
"I feel like I've been working on it the whole summer long," she said.
But Hoffbeck said she's excited to learn with the class this year, as well as remembering to be patient with the young, impressionable students.
"Just because they're kindergarteners doesn't mean they can't learn," she said. "They're like little sponges."
Hoffbeck looked a little nervous but not flustered. At the beginning of the day, her voice wavered while announcing to the class. But after a while she seemed right at home.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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