Starla Pointer/News-Register##Kindergartners practice walking in a line as they explore the playground at Columbus Elementary School.
Starla Pointer/News-Register##Kindergartners practice walking in a line as they explore the playground at Columbus Elementary School.
Starla Pointer/News-Register##Jeff Van Dyke snaps a photo of his son, Harrison, with teacher Hayley Hook on the first day of school in McMinnville. Harrison is one of about 480 kindergartners in the 6,800-student district.
Starla Pointer/News-Register##Jeff Van Dyke snaps a photo of his son, Harrison, with teacher Hayley Hook on the first day of school in McMinnville. Harrison is one of about 480 kindergartners in the 6,800-student district.
Starla Pointer/News-Register##Miss Hook explains how to go through the cafeteria line at lunchtime. It’s a new experience for kindergartners.
Starla Pointer/News-Register##Miss Hook explains how to go through the cafeteria line at lunchtime. It’s a new experience for kindergartners.
Starla Pointer/News-Register##Tanner Olson high-5’s kindergarten teacher Hayley Hook as he prepares to leave Columbus School on the first day of classes. Teachers check each student to make sure they leave safely.
Starla Pointer/News-Register##Tanner Olson high-5’s kindergarten teacher Hayley Hook as he prepares to leave Columbus School on the first day of classes. Teachers check each student to make sure they leave safely.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

A long, happy day

“It’s been different without Tanner home,” Heather Vasquez said as she hugged her kindergartner. “Today was a little hard.”

And a little longer than it would have been if Tanner had been born a year earlier.

Last year’s kindergartners spent about three hours at school each day, following a half-day schedule that’s been a tradition for decades.

ALSO: All-day kindergarten begins

This year, with the advent of full-day kindergarten in McMinnville and most of the rest of Oregon, 5-year-olds are spending the entire day in classes — just like the big kids in grades one to 12. The change is expected to give children a better start on academics.

Teachers will have more time to teach reading, writing and math; more time to reinforce concepts; more time to prepare their students to meet learning goals once considered beyond the range of kindergartners.

There will be more time for social skills development and gross and fine motor activities, as well, according to Kyra Donovan, director of elementary education for the district. And there will even be more time for play.

Tanner was one of 15 kindergartners who arrived at 8 a.m. to meet the teacher, Hayley Hook.

As each child entered the classroom, Hook dropped to her knee so she could look her or him in the eye.

She welcomed each parent, as well, and checked to make sure how children would be getting home -- would parents pick them up, or would they ride the bus? She made it clear that she wouldn’t let anyone leave until she knew they were accompanied by the right person, so they’d be safe.

Many of the parents helped their children shrug off backpacks half the size of a kindergartner. They took photos and hovered as the kids settled themselves at tables.

Kristen Thelian hugged her daughter, Mackenzie, multiple times. Leaving her at school was stressful, Thelian said. “They’re never away from me,” she explained, holding her son, a toddler.

Mackenzie had been looking forward to kindergarten, but she was a little nervous, too, Thelian said.

“She asked if it’s OK for kids to cry,” Mom said.

As Mackenzie checked out the play kitchen and settled down with a Clifford the Big Red Dog book, Thelian sighed. “It’s probably me who’ll end up crying,” she admitted.

At another desk, Jeff Van Dyke watched his son, Harrison, dig into a box of books. The youngster also was a bit nervous about starting school, his dad said, “but books make everything better.”

He was right: Harrison and his classmates returned to their book boxes several times during the day. Even when their teacher offered a few minutes of quiet time, telling them they could nap if they wanted, the children stayed alert — and fell on the books once again.

To Van Dyke, Columbus — with four kindergarten classrooms and about 600 students overall in grades K through five — seemed huge. He grew up in Yamhill, a much smaller district, and his wife now teaches at Yamhill-Carlton Elementary School.

But Harrison, absorbed in his first book of the day, didn’t seem to mind the size of the school.

At least his class wasn’t large. In McMinnville, kindergarten classes are intentionally being kept small, averaging no more than 20 students per teacher. And teaching assistants and volunteers are on hand to help Hook and other teachers give students plenty of individual attention.

Knowing that, Van Dyke eventually managed to tear himself away and leave the classroom — only to return a couple minutes later for one more hug and a few more pictures.

Starla Pointer/News-Register##Mackenzie Cordova enjoys a lunch of peanut butter and jelly, carrots, apple slices and milk on her first day of school. It was the first time kindergartners joined older students at lunch.

For Harrison, Mackenzie and Tanner’s teacher, the first day was one of change, as well.

Hook started her career 14 years ago teaching kindergarten in London, then taught the same grade when she returned to her hometown of McMinnville. The last few years, though, she’s had third- or fourth-graders instead.

“I’d forgotten how much they don’t know yet,” she said, as she explained, again, about classroom and school procedures such as sitting on the carpet criss-cross applesauce or following classmates through the halls in a straight, quiet line.

Unlike her students, Hook had her mother by her side part of the school day.

Cathy Hook is a former kindergarten teacher who spent many years at Newby and Grandhaven schools before retiring in 2004. On Tuesday, she volunteered to help her daughter make the transition to a younger grade level.

The retiree used skills she practiced during her teaching days by comforting a few teary-eyed students as the morning progressed.

Although it was the first day, many of Miss Hook’s new kindergartners already knew about school rules. When the teacher held up her hand, they held theirs up, as well.

“What does this mean?” Hook asked.

“Be quiet!” Clyde said.

“And stay still, eyes on teacher,” said Zoey, always one of the first to raise her hand.

Later, as the class settled on the floor to hear a story, Zoey explained, “I already learned this stuff in preschool.”

The children paid close attention as their teacher went through instructions about where to hang their backpacks and coats, how many students could use the play kitchen at one time, and how to choose what to have for lunch. They watched as she pointed out various features in the classroom — several alphabet charts, the numbers 1 to 100, the science table full of crystals and fascinating objects.

When Hook handed out worksheets, they picked up pencils and wrote their names — some perfectly, some with a measure of creativity. They named the colors as their teacher demonstrated drawing a self-portrait using at least five different crayons.

They memorized the bathroom rules: Hush, flush, wash, rush — the latter meaning hurry back to class, but don’t run!

And they read along as she turned the pages of a small book and read aloud:

“At school, we color. At school, we play. At school, we will count. At school, we will write.”

The latter sentence prompted a flurry of comments from the children.

“I don’t know how to write words yet,” one girl said.

“I know how to ride! I know how to ride my bike!” said someone else.

“I can do tricks on my bike,” said another.

After that, it was on to other important business: recess, one of three scheduled during the day; lunch, the first school lunch ever for kindergartners; music class, where they played a musical chairs-type game called “Spot, Go Find Your Spot.”

During music, Mackenzie raised her hand and confided something to the teacher, Marilyn Dresser.

“You know what? I didn’t really want to come to school, but I had to,” she said. “And you know what? I like it!”

By the end of the day, Mackenzie and the other kindergartners were bursting with news to tell their parents about music class and many other things they did on the first day of school.

Tanner was prepared even earlier, in fact.

“You know what? I’m ready to go home now,” he confided during afternoon recess, nearly 45 minutes before the final bell.

Still, when they returned to the classroom, he was eager to try out some math tools. He and his classmates happily built towers with blocks or made patterns with octagons, rhombi and other shapes until it was time to go home.

Backpacks strapped in place, Tanner and his classmates marched through the halls again, their line slightly straighter than it had been earlier in the day.

He spotted his mother as the class exited the building. After high-fiving his teacher and getting her permission, he ran to Mom’s side.

“My favorite thing was playing ‘find your spot’ in music,” he told her. And yes, he said, he was looking forward to returning the next day.

Comments

TTT

"A long, happy day" is complete bullshit. Starla you continue to be the Minister of Propaganda for McMinnville School District.

I have a kindergarten student at Memorial and they fed him full size Hershey's chocolate bars, Drumstick ice cream cones and otter pops to placate them in the afternoon. How is this education? It sounds like pre-diabetes.

This is a complete sham.

john fritter

Wow Memorial has changed a lot in the last couple years. They always asked us parents not to bring in things like that for the kids, they encouraged use to bring healthy snacks for things such as birthdays.

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