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October 21, 2014

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Education:

Kindergartners — some with tears — step into school, and away from parents

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Mona Shield Payne

Kindergartner Jonathan Mondragon sobs while standing in line on the playground prior to the first day of class Monday, August 27, 2012, at Cambeiro Elementary School in Las Vegas.

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First Day of Kindergarten

Kindergartner Jonathan Mondragon sobs while standing in line on the playground prior to the first day of class Monday, August 27, 2012, at Cambeiro Elementary School in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Jonathan Mondragon sniffles loudly as tears well up in his glasses-rimmed eyes.

It’s the first day of school at Cambeiro Elementary School, and the 5-year-old kindergartner is on the blacktop, bawling as he waits in line with his peers.

Grisel Figueroa gives her crying son a hug and a kiss and then retreats to the crowd of camera-toting parents in the back.

Jonathan remains inconsolable — snot-nosed, full-on-waterworks inconsolable.

“I feel like crying with him,” Figueroa, 25, says, wiping away a tear as she casts a worried look toward her son. “This is it. He’s so big, growing up so fast.”

Nervous and excited faces were plentiful on Monday as more than 309,000 schoolchildren returned to Clark County public schools, kicking off yet another year for the nation’s fifth-largest school district.

First-day jitters were particularly acute for the School District’s incoming kindergartners — members of the high school class of 2025. That’s because most Las Vegas kindergartners never experience preschool, which exposes youngsters to the structure and expectations of grade school.

Only a third of Cambeiro’s 100 kindergartners took preschool last year. That means for most of these kindergartners, Monday marked their first time in school apart from their beloved home and family, Principal Patty Rosales said.

“There’s always some separation anxiety with kindergartners,” Rosales said. “I was one of these kids — all I wanted to do was to stay at home with my grandma. We just have to provide a lot of tender loving care.”

Teachers spent the past few weeks of summer preparing for their students. They participated in training and redecorated their classrooms, transforming cinderblock rooms into inviting spaces.

“These teachers go above and beyond to help these students,” said School Board member Lorraine Alderman, who visited Cambeiro on Monday. “They’re totally committed to these kids. That’s what back-to-school is all about: starting the year off on the right foot.”

•••

It’s time for breakfast, and teachers begin herding their kindergartners into the cafeteria for their first school meal. All of the students at Cambeiro — located in a low-income neighborhood near North Las Vegas — participate in the federal free and reduced-price meal program.

Although most of the children eagerly take their pretzel, string cheese and boxes of chocolate milk and juice, a few students have other concerns.

Kenneth Medina, wearing a green plaid shirt, clings onto his father’s legs, refusing to let go. The boy’s teacher, Dena Saisa, gently tugs Kenneth away and begins leading him toward the cafeteria doors.

The 5-year-old kindergartner isn’t going to have it. With tears cascading down his face, he drags his feet and cries for his parents at the top of his lungs.

“You’re going to be OK,” Saisa says, trying to console him but steadfast in her mission. Saisa deftly pulls Kenneth, kicking and screaming, through the school doors.

A few anxious parents sneak into the cafeteria to check up on their children, but they are quickly ushered away by teachers.

“It’s making it harder for them if you stay,” a teacher tells them. “Say goodbye and move on.”

Parents have it tough, too, Rosales said. Adults also feel a sense of separation anxiety dropping off their kindergartners for the first time, she said.

“We understand it’s hard,” Rosales said. “It’s hard to trust your children with total strangers.”

•••

As the children finish their breakfast, teachers begin cleaning up the cafeteria and arranging the children into single-file lines. Jonathan wipes away his tears and throws out his trash.

“All right, are we ready?” says teacher Julie Cohen. “Follow me!”

As they head down the hallway, Cohen peppers her students with questions: Do you think the classroom is large or small? Does it have many toys? Is it colorful?

Jonathan nods his head and raises his hand in agreement. Colorful backpacks — covered with SpongeBob SquarePants, Barbie and Justin Bieber — bob up and down through the halls.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a smarter group of kids,” Cohen tells the group of well-behaved children. “We’re going to have a great year. I can already tell.”

After a quick bathroom pit stop, the students enter their classroom; for some, it’s the first time in a classroom. As Jonathan’s now-dry eyes scan the books and toys, small chairs and round desks, a bewildered look falls across his face.

“Welcome to our classroom!” Cohen says. “What do you think?”

Jonathan grins and gives Cohen two big thumbs up.

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  1. First day of school probably ranks highest on the great anxiety scale of life. For educational staff, everything must be not only ready, but perfect. For the new students and their families, it is the new and unknown along with separation syndrome.

    Parents and guardians can allievate or mitigate some of their child's anxiety by participating in school activities as PTA or volunteering at the school. They make school an extention of home. Not only will this improve their perspectives, but it will improve the school culture and climate! With all the budget cuts, now, more than ever, we need those who can spare some time to be present and helpful at our schools, whether or not they have children in that school or children at all!

    It truly makes a difference and sure brings a whole bunch of comfort to see familiar faces while at school for these young people. Have a great 2012-2013 school year everyone!

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  2. About 50% of them will drop out before graduating if this path continues. I wouldn't put my kid in this school system if my life depended on it. It's not that I think the teachers, administrators or workers are inept...they're not. The only inept ones are the parents who use the school system as their kids baby sitter and put the importance of education on the bottom rung of their ladder. I wouldn't want my kid sitting in the middle of those two kids. No matter how much attention I put into trying to make sure my kid gets the education he needs and deserves he will not thrive or perform his best when he's surrounded by kids that don't care.

    Maybe this new class of kindergarten kids will surprise me and in 12 years the graduation rate will be 90%...but I have my doubts.

  3. My favorite three words "BACK TO SCHOOL"!

  4. Those photos in the gallery are great. The day starts with sad scared faces but ends with smiles and new friends.

  5. I remember my frist day of school. It was the 1st grade. Kindergarten was optional back then and my parents did not send me.

    Our teacher took us to the lunch room and it was closed. She did not know it was closed on the 1st day. It was very disappointing.

  6. Great post, Star. That's useful information.

    Jerry, you have problems.

    Tom, unfortunately, I kind of agree with you. Until I start to see some dramatic improvements, I'll bust my butt at work so that I can send my kids to private school, or even better, move to a town where education is a high (the highest) priority.

    Good luck to these kids and their families. Listen to what Star said and get involved.

  7. "These teachers go above and beyond to help these students," said School Board member Lorraine Alderman, who visited Cambeiro on Monday. "They're totally committed to these kids. That's what back-to-school is all about: starting the year off on the right foot."

    Really?? From what I can tell, Back to School is all about having the RJ editorial board hammer the teachers on back to back days. This was nothing but an elected Board Member sucking up for the press on day one. There is no real support from the Board for any teacher.

  8. Mr. Takahashi: Thank you for writing this back-to-school article about the youngest new members of the Cambeiro Elementary School community. It was refreshing to read a school-related article that wasn't intent on slamming teachers or the teachers' union.

    I'm at a middle school, where incoming sixth graders entered the building eager and smiling instead of in tears, and both kids and teachers were excited about starting a new school year. We have high expectations for our students, and our staff is determined to work together to find ways to help even our most struggling students achieve. I'm confident that the positive energy I felt throughout the school yesterday and today will still be evident when this school year ends in June.

    I look forward to reading additional, positive articles in the Sun. A newspaper that focuses on building a spirit of cooperation among all the stakeholders in the community can be a powerful influence in helping to make our schools great.

  9. I can't help but wonder if there is any correlation at all between the importance placed upon education by the parents and the amount of anxiety a child feels when starting school.

    My thought is that if parents are telling children how important and exciting it is to learn there might not be as much fear going into it.

  10. Long, long, ago, as a young child, I have memories of my mother, who used to go to the educational toy stores and buy skills practice books for me and my sister BEFORE we ever set a foot into a school. She valued our growing and learning in a world that was there to explore and equip us for life. Commenter Boftx has a real point, as often I hear parents today drill into their children how they must "go to school to become smart," never really celebrating all that they have learned while at home and putting it into practice while at school. So the comment by Boftx, "I can't help but wonder if there is any correlation at all between the importance placed upon education by the parents and the amount of anxiety a child feels when starting school.

    My thought is that if parents are telling children how important and exciting it is to learn there might not be as much fear going into it," rings true. Parents are a child's FIRST and LIFELONG teacher!

    A few commenters mentioned their concerns about placing their child in our public schools. I understand, as in years past, there was a time my children attended private school due to similar concerns. Then I was unable to continue sending them and had to entrust our public school system. I grew up in greater Los Angeles and went to public school for the duration, sitting next to students who never appeared to stand a chance.

    But you know what, my children graduated college, have great careers, are happy. My most destitute classmates while growing up, have become industrial and commercial magnets, CEOs, etc., great people who are still grounded even today. Take a step away from fear, and see the former children learning in one room school houses, schools in common and ghetto neighborhoods, and out of those places came the many creative citizens who have made inventions that have made our modern lives what they are today.

    The family culture joined with the community culture, supports that child, whether they are in a private or public school. Their school culture linked with other support, will inspire them to work towards their dreams and aspirations. That is why a solid system of social care and welfare is vital towards seeing to it that every child has an opportunity to become a success, especially when there are instances when a child needs help and some intervention. I am thankful that there are still kind and benevolent people in the world.

    We are already seeing the benefits of the new "Growth Model" in our schools, and things will improve year to year, which is very encouraging.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star