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Published: Sunday, 8/17/2003

Kindergarten, here they come

BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Shortly after little Mari Driscoll enters Maumee's Union Elementary School on Aug. 26 for her first day of kindergarten, her mother will get back into her car and most likely have a good cry.

“I cried with each of them,” says Janie Driscoll, mother of six. She expects that this time will be even sadder for her, because Mari is No. 6.

For parents, a child's entry into kindergarten can be one of those times when the excitement and satisfaction of watching offspring grow is tinged with sadness - whether the child is their first-born, their “only,” or their baby. Kindergarten is a developmental watershed, ending one era of childhood and starting another.

Things will never be quite the same.

“You're letting them go into the world then,” Mrs. Driscoll reflects. “They're not in that little cocoon.”

Different emotions are percolating for East Toledoan Dawn Pfotenhauer, who is just starting the educational journey as a parent. Her daughter, Kaylie, will enter kindergarten this month at Holy Rosary-St. Stephen United School.

“I'm excited and nervous, I guess,” says Mrs. Pfotenhauer, who also has a 2-year-old daughter. “I'm excited because I know she's ready for it, but I'm also nervous because she's my first-born and she's going to be away for the whole day.”

The Pfotenhauers are planning to take plenty of Day One pictures: Once when Kaylie gets ready to leave home for school and again when she gets into her classroom, Mrs. Pfotenhauer says.

“This will be a good learning experience, for all of us,” she adds.

A longtime annual tradition in the Anthony Wayne Local Schools is aimed, in part, at easing first day jitters. Called the Kindergarten Practice Bus Ride, it's something like a tranquilizer on wheels for kids and parents alike.

This year the event takes place on Aug. 21, five days before classes start. Kindergartners and one parent ride the bus to their primary school, where all the neophytes gather for welcomes and introductions before scattering to find their classrooms.

It helps the transportation department iron out any wrinkles on the routes before the first day of school, but it's also “a way to ease parental and child anxiety,” notes district spokesman Susan Cross. In another effort to help the kindergartners make the transition into school life, the younger pupils are matched up with older students, usually fourth-graders, in some buildings as bus buddies and reading partners throughout the year.

Tracy Wieczorek of East Toledo has been through the kindergarten blues twice now.

“Each child has been difficult,” admits Mrs. Wieczorek, who has four sons ranging in age from 8 to 2. The two oldest boys are pupils at Toledo Public's Navarre Elementary School - Steven in second grade and Nicholas in first. Daniel, age 4, will start pre-school this fall and Christian, 2, will be at home with mom.

“I imagine when Daniel goes to kindergarten it will be as difficult, and when my fourth goes I'll really be bummin,'” says Mrs. Wieczorek, who works for Toledo Public Schools as a parent involvement coordinator in the Waite area.

When Nicholas started school last fall, he “was much more excited about it than I was,” Mrs. Wieczorek remembers. “I knew the school was great, I knew the principal and the teacher, but it was so hard to let him go.”

She thinks back to his first day of school last year: “I sent him into the building and the door shut and I felt really lonely.”

This year she's more upbeat. “I seem to have grown. I look forward to it because he does so well and he likes school so much,” Mrs. Wieczorek says.

But she hasn't forgotten that empty feeling of a year ago, so she's organizing an event for kindergarten parents at elementary schools in the Waite area on Sept. 2 called the “Boo-Hoo Breakfast.”

Along with the food and basic school information they'll dish up, organizers will give parents a box of tissues. On one side will be written “Boo-Hoo.”

On the other side: “Ya-Hoo!”

Yes, there is at least one upside. As Darrell Bossert of South Toledo notes, he and his wife, Kelly, are looking forward to a drop in day-care expenses when their daughter, Kylie, enters kindergarten this month at Union Elementary, where Mrs. Bossert teaches third grade.

But that's just part of the emotional mix, Mr. Bossert acknowledges.

“Kelly says she's going to try not to cry, but she probably will the first day,” he says. “I think I'm going to be excited but certainly nervous.”

Many youngsters and parents sail into kindergarten with no adjustment problems, notes Lona Turner, a kindergarten teacher at Anthony Wayne's Monclova Primary School. But it can be a big adjustment for children who haven't had any pre-school experience, or haven't been away from home on a daily basis, she adds. Likewise, kindergarten can be “a huge transition for first-time parents who haven't had their child away from them.”

Kids who have no nursery school experience have to learn how to behave with other children, for example. Parents who are letting go often are nervous about whether their child will get help finding the right bus, and what the teacher will do if the child gets sick or scared.

“The first couple weeks are the toughest part,” Mrs. Turner says.

Which leaves just under 13 years - not counting college - for parents and students to worry about other things.



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