'Everything ... is brand new' as Houston students return to school

jmink@macon.comAugust 1, 2013 

Video by Jenna Mink

WARNER ROBINS -- With wide eyes and pigtails, 5-year-old Hannah Wilson was excited Thursday for one important reason.

“I’ve never been to kindergarten before,” the Linwood Elementary School student said as she stood outside her sister’s prekindergarten classroom.

It was the first day back to school for thousands of Houston County students, and changes awaited some of them. Gifted elementary children are taking advanced classes all day, every day -- a switch from the former system of gifted classes once a week. The Edge Academy opened for high school students who are behind and need to catch up. About 88 students were scheduled to attend when the doors opened Thursday, officials said.

Some of the tiniest students experienced the biggest change when they entered a new school building. As part of a school improvement project, Linwood Elementary will operate this school year in the new C.B. Watson Primary School on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard while the Linwood building is renovated. Next year, primary students will remain in C.B. Watson, while the older students will return to the renovated Linwood building.

“It’s beautiful,” said Michelle Sargent, a prekindergarten teacher. “It’s going to be awesome to call it home now, especially for us because we get to stay.”

The day before school started, faculty and staff ran a first-day drill, practicing their routine in a new building, Principal Amanda Brantley said.

“Everything today is brand new,” she said, “New school, new procedures, and we just want to make sure it goes smoothly today, so everybody gets home safe.”

While the building is new to Linwood employees, the back-to-school routine is new to the youngest students. Some children beamed, while others cried as they clutched their mothers and fathers. Parents crowded the hallways, snapping photographs, chatting with teachers and, in some cases, wiping their own tears.

“It’s his first year,” said Dana Conner, parent of a kindergartner. “And I’m trying not to cry.”

LaQuinta Respicio gave her son, Daren, a tight squeeze before leaving him in his kindergarten class. Several minutes after class started, Respicio still lingered in the hallway.

“He’s my only baby,” she said. “So I’m kind of scared.”

Hannah’s mother, Candy Wilson, choked back tears as she hugged her daughters goodbye. The entire family, including Hannah’s father and baby brother, escorted the girls to school.

“I’m the one who’s crying,” Candy Wilson said.

Soon, Hannah was settled into her own seat in her new classroom. At a nearby table, one boy began to whimper. At another table, a couple of students were reprimanded for chatting. But Hannah remained quiet and watchful, drawing a picture with her crayons.

Eager to follow instructions, Hannah made sure to push her chair near her desk when leaving for lunch. As she walked to the cafeteria, she held her finger to her lips to show she was being quiet -- a rule her teacher, Amanda Crowder, asked students to follow.

Sitting down in the lunchroom, Hannah noticed she and her new friend had similar lunch boxes -- both pink, both glittery and both sporting a Hello Kitty logo. Hannah was quick to point out that she also had a Hello Kitty backpack and juice thermos.

“I love it,” Hannah said when asked what she thought of kindergarten.

For many kindergartners and preschoolers, the first day is anything but easy. While some have attended preschool or day care, others have never experienced a school setting and are away from their parents for the first time.

Educators teach students about shapes and numbers, but they also show them how to hold their lunch trays, the right way to walk the halls and where to keep their backpacks.

“Some of them have a moment where they miss Mommy and Daddy,” said Sarah Gray, a Linwood kindergarten teacher. “And at the beginning of the year, you have to teach them every single thing.”

By the end of the day, Hannah had made some new friends and created a heart with finger paint. And, like many students, she was already looking forward to the weekend.

“We have one more day of school, and then we’re off for two whole days,” she said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.


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