Back to class: Hugs are first lesson

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
Tuesday was a day of celebration for Ashley Parker of East Ridge Road.
Parker stayed in the school cafeteria of North Rowan Elementary School while her daughter, Destiny, ate breakfast with her fellow kindergarten students.
“It’s awesome,” Ashley said of Destiny’s first day of school. “She wasn’t supposed to be able to attend public schools.”
Destiny was born with a congenital heart disease and given only a 15 percent chance of surviving, her mother said. She was only 24 hours old when she had her first open-heart surgery, which was followed by a second surgery at age 6 months and a third at age 2.
Though a little shy at first, Destiny smiled when asked about her new pink-and-brown bookbag. Her sister, Summer, who is in the second grade, has been telling her about school, trying to prepare her for the first day.
“She didn’t really have any questions,” her mother said. “She was ready to start.”
Destiny was among the kindergarten students starting school Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on a staggered schedule to give teachers more one-on-one time with them.
Diana Corrillo sat at the other end of the table from Destiny for breakfast in the cafeteria. She held her French toast stick suspended in the air throughout the pledge of allegiance and recording of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Kim Bringle, a substitute filling in for kindergarten teacher Carolyn McLaughlin while she’s out recovering from surgery, reassured one student who started crying when his class got up from the cafeteria table to head to class.
Kindergarten teacher Brenda Watson explained how the school’s kindergarten teachers deal with children who start crying after their parents leave. “We try to comfort them,” she said. “If they really need hugging and loving, I put them on my lap. And we do try to get them to become independent.”
Hannah Small, who is now a first-grader, ran to hug Brenda Watson, who was her kindergarten teacher last year. “Hannah Banana,” Watson responded.
When asked what she liked best about Mrs. Watson, Hannah said without hesitation, “I love her.”
“She said exactly the right answer, didn’t she?” Watson said.
Principal Rick Hampton greeted students at the back entrance as parents dropped them off in time to eat breakfast and get to their 8 a.m. class. He walked one student from the parking lot to the school cafeteria.
Mary J. Jones, a second-grade teacher’s assistant, also greeted parents bringing their children back to school.
Michelle Bates walked up with her children, kindergartner Dylan, and fourth-grader Alyssa. Dylan was carrying a “Wall-E” lunch box and wearing a matching bookbag on his back, and Alyssa was carrying a “Wizards of Waverly Place” bookbag and lunch box.
Neither one had a lot to say about the first day of school. “We just got back from Walt Disney World,” their mother said. “They’re still a little on cloud nine.”
And tired from all the walking, Alyssa added. “A lot of walking,” her mother agreed, “and sweating.”
Back in the school cafeteria, Keturah Oglesby pushed her daughter, 12-week-old Kaliah, in a stroller while waiting to walk with her two sons, second-grader Teizae and first-grader Jayden to their classes.
Oglesby said she was more excited about school starting back than her sons. Indeed, Teizae, didn’t seemed thrilled with the end of summer. Jayden, however, who was finishing his Cinnamon Toasters cereal, said he was excited. “I get to do math,” he said.
At the front of the school, a life-size cutout featuring photographs of real students’ faces holding a “Welcome to North Rowan Elementary” sign greets returning students. Hampton changes the cutout throughout the year to include different students.
The cutout attracts a lot of attention. Once, Hampton said, some people came in and commented that they thought at first that he was requiring students to stand and hold the sign all day.
He once took a photograph of the actual students in the cutout holding the sign used for the photograph and framed it.
Overall, the first day of school went smoothly throughout the system, according to Public Information Officer Rita Foil.
First-day enrollment figures were not available Tuesday afternoon.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.