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First day of Houston school year hard on parents of kindergartners

WARNER ROBINS -- A neatly tied pink bow finished off 5-year-old Jacquelyne Kelly’s pink and white polka dot outfit Wednesday morning. With her hand to her chest, she calmly looked around and hummed along to the national anthem on her first day of kindergarten.

“She’s fine,” said mother Shannon Kelly, whose daughter now attends Perdue Primary School.

Shannon Kelly, on the other hand, was not. The first day of Houston County’s 2012-13 school year for many parents doubled as a major milestone for their little ones: the first day of kindergarten.

“I’m just a very emotional person,” Shannon Kelly said, with her eyes still red and a camera around her neck to capture every moment. “It’s like an end of an era. My first one is taking some big steps.”

Perdue Primary and other schools in the county put on “boo-hoo parties” for parents who have a hard time on their kindergartner’s first day of school. Houston County schools has about 27,750 students this year, 2,150 of whom are kindergartners, said schools spokeswoman Beth McLaughlin.

“It helps the parents to separate a little bit from the children and assures them that we’re going to love them and take care of them while (parents are) away,” said Principal Leslie Shultz.

Alexis King, mother of first-grader Lana Jean King, said she missed the party last year but thought it was a good idea. Lana Jean, then a kindergartner, was ready for mom to leave, though.

This year, Lana Jean was just as ready, even having her mom drive by the school a few times over the summer. The 6-year-old barely slept Tuesday evening. The pair were up at 6 a.m., making breakfast and lunch.

“She’s more excited this year,” Alexis King said. “She knows the school. She has friends.”

Preparations for school are just a bit different for the kindergartners who don’t have friends or know the school just yet.

Celeste Sims, mother of 6-year-old Jackson Sims, said they did a special event, such as going to the movies, every day this past week. Jackson also insisted on buying his teachers candles for first-day-of-school gifts.

Angie McKay, mother of 5-year-old Alex McKay, said they had a five-day countdown and packed up all his Spiderman school supplies Tuesday evening.

The Kellys have been reading books about starting school, the things Jacquelyne will see and the impact of her words.

“It helps to know that Mom told me to smile and say ‘Hi, my name is Jacquelyne,’ ” said Shannon Kelly, who blogs at theshoppingmama.com. “As long as she has definite tools in her belt to make that first day easier, she’ll be OK.”

After the morning bell sounded, parents at Perdue Primary gathered in the lunchroom for reading time. They were treated to the same book their children will hear throughout this first week: “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn.

The children’s book tells of a mother raccoon’s attempt to ease her son into the first day of school with a comforting kiss to his hand.

“Chester went off to school, and he survived,” Reading Specialist Melanie Jones told the parents. “And you will, too.”

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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