Back To School

The morning started this way: “What time does the bus come back?” asked one new kindergartener two minutes after he hung his coat in a cubby.

His teacher, Sandy Hooven, said, “You’re not ready to go home yet are you?”

He shook his head no.

Another student standing near the bookshelf in the back of the room wiped a few warm tears from his eyes, while another exclaimed to Mrs. Hooven that she’d left her backpack on the bus.

The school career of 102 kindergarten students from the class of 2026 began promptly at 8:45 at Southwestern Elementary School on Tuesday, marking the symbolic end of summer.

Hooven, who has been a kindergarten teacher for 21 years, handled the first day commotion with ease.

“For kindergarten students there are a lot of mixed feelings,” Hooven said. “They’re happy, they’re excited and they’re scared.”

Southwestern Grade School hosts an open house a week before school begins so that kindergartners can ride the bus, visit their classroom and meet their new teacher before the first day. Hooven thinks it’s a good way to transition new students into the experience of school.

Mrs. Hooven fixed the pink belt on a new student who was dressed to the nines as she asked another, “Did you get that toilet flushed?”

Someone else wanted to know when they were going to the cafeteria. “Not until Thursday,” was his answer.

At 9:10, it was time to say the Pledge of Allegiance with the rest of the 621 Southwestern Elementary School students with principal Bill Caldwell leading over the intercom system.

“With liberty and justice for all,” said the kindergartners who could remember the last line.

“By the end of the year, everyone will know how to say the Pledge,” Mrs. Hooven promised her class.

It was time to put the toys away where they found them and sit cross-legged on the big rug. It was time to get down to business.

Thanks to preschool programs, day care and early childhood development centers, by the time the average suburban child reaches kindergarten, it isn’t as difficult a transition as it once was to start school.

This year, kindergarten classes at Southwestern are larger, with an average of 21 students in each of the five classrooms – an increase of three students over last year.

Another challenge for the school year, according to Caldwell, is the Common Core-a nationwide effort to implement a set of learning standards in public schools. The Common Core includes new definitions for school success as well as new national standards for core subjects such as reading, writing and math. Forty-six states and Washington, D.C., have adopted some form of Common Core, but it’s not without its critics.

“We’re still learning and getting better at the Common Core,” Caldwell said. “But being in the second year of the program is better for us. We’ll take what we learned last year and make it more automatic for our teachers and our students.”

Caldwell also noted that school administrators are pouring over the data from recent ELA and math test scores which showed a 30 percent drop in New York state students who are deemed proficient in the subject matter.

“Our big goal,” said Caldwell, “is to tear apart the data to see where our students were missing information and filling in those gaps.”

“Good news,” someone from the front office declared at 9:20. “We don’t have anyone crying.”

The school year seemed to be getting off to a good start.

After Caldwell said the Pledge on the intercom system and gave a few announcements, he ended his message by giving a little advice: “Remember,” he said, “Today is a great day to be a kid.”