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Parents swamp Bibb schools Welcome Center to register children on first day of school

Dawn Willis’ daughter Amber left Heritage Elementary to attend middle school this year, but Willis was back at Heritage bright and early Monday for her son Christian’s first day of kindergarten.

Standing outside his classroom, she wanted to capture some moments from his first day.

“I’ve got to take pictures, at least one or two,” Willis explained.

Christian, 5, wasn’t too excited about the prospect, though. When Willis crouched near his desk for a quick shot, Christian blocked his face with his hands. Later on, he came around, stepping out of the classroom to hug his mom before classes started.

“He’s going through a big change,” she said.

The new school year is bringing plenty of changes -- for Christian and students all across Bibb County.

He and other students in pre-K through third grade will begin learning Mandarin Chinese this year.

Jennifer Sadler, who became Heritage’s principal this year, said most of the feedback she has received from parents about the Chinese instruction so far has been “very positive.”

Pinki Patel, who has a pre-K student and a third-grader at Heritage, said the Mandarin Chinese will be “helpful for their life.”

Others, such as Dusty and Brittany Solomon, whose daughter Kennedy started pre-K, said they are interested to see how 4-year-olds will do with the Mandarin instruction.

“It’s going to be strange,” Dusty Solomon said. “Spanish is better to learn.”

During the 2012-13 school year, students in Bibb County and across the state will also receive instruction with the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards in math, English, and literacy in science, social studies and technical subjects. The Common Core instruction is part of a state-led initiative to develop common education standards across the country. So far, 46 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards.

The school day at all Bibb County schools is also longer by a half-hour to accommodate extra learning time required at schools receiving federal School Improvement Grants.

“It’s an opportunity to offer intervention time,” Sadler said in the hallway Monday as students got settled into their classrooms.

On the other side of the county, meanwhile, about 100 parents and students waited early Monday afternoon to complete school transfers and registrations at the Welcome Center.

Among them was Octavia Williams, who had been at the center since 8 a.m. Her children had been attending Houston County schools, and she was trying to register them at Ingram-Pye Elementary.

“The wait is extremely bad,” she said. “The kids are supposed to start school today.”

She voiced concerns about the process at the Welcome Center for notifying parents, saying she wasn’t sure where to go.

Williams said she tried to go to the center Saturday to register her children when the Welcome Center was open, but she couldn’t because she had to work.

Latasha Pitts, who arrived at the Welcome Center about 10 a.m. to transfer her child to Riley Elementary, also was not pleased with her experience there. She dropped by last week, but there was a long wait at that point, too.

“It’s horrible,” she said. “It’s better going to the school.”

Kimberlyn Carter, the Welcome Center’s director of strategic partnership, said she expected delays Monday, though she expected a larger turnout.

She said all the staff at the center were cross-trained to facilitate the registration process, and workers from other departments as well as community members have helped out.

The Welcome Center was open Friday afternoon, after the system’s convocation, and during the weekend to make sure parents could get their children registered, Carter said.

She said if parents are following procedures such as signing in and having the documentation needed to register for school, the process should take 10 to 15 minutes.

Carter also said she would work harder to get the word out that the Welcome Center is open all year, supplementing communications online, in faith-based communities and through local organizations that work with children.

“This is the first time at the Super Bowl,” she said. “Some of these things are expected.”

About 3,000 students have registered in Bibb County schools since an early registration process began in July. On Sunday, 213 students did so, though Carter said Monday’s registration numbers were not available Monday afternoon. Those numbers are in addition to more than 25,400 students in the district as of Sunday.

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.

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