Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/arizonaliving/articles/0315kindies15.html

Suddenly students
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 15, 2004

Connie Midey

Emotional parents sign up their 'babies' for kindergarten

You look down at the newborn who takes up so little space in your arms and think of all the glorious years ahead to love and nurture him, the hours you'll spend laughing and learning and growing together.

But someone must have hit the fast-forward button on your life, because now - already? - you're registering him for kindergarten.

Antoine Stroop is stunned by the reality that this evening smacks up against him. He and his wife, Aleesha, are registering their firstborn child, also named Antoine, for full-day kindergarten at Bustoz Elementary School in Tempe.

"It happened so quick," he says. "It's like he was just born."

His son, who's 4, sits at a table in the library, coloring with sister Aubrianna, 3, while baby brother Alijah, 16 months, watches from Dad's arms. Antoine Jr. looks far happier about the occasion than his father.

"He's been asking every day, 'When am I going to school?' " Aleesha says. "I'm probably more excited for him than he is, but it will be hard not having him around during the day."

She's home then, reading to and playing with the kids, teaching them letters and numbers in English and Spanish, then handing the reins to Dad while she goes to school.

While the first day of kindergarten typically leaves kids and their parents in tears, it's the parents who often are teary-eyed during kindergarten roundup, the name many schools give their spring registration drives.

Next to the day their daughters and sons leave home for college or get married, this is one of the most emotional rites of passage parents face. No more midmorning Sesame Street breaks. No more naptime stories and cuddles. Their babies, even those who attended day care or preschool, will be real students now

"It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to offer some therapy classes for the parents," says Natalie Wilcox, principal at Sonoran Sky Elementary School in the Paradise Valley School District.

She's joking, but parents would take her up on it.

Paradise Valley schools have formal registration this week, but as with other schools, registration is ongoing. The sooner the better, though, to help families and schools prepare for the academic year.

At Bustoz, incoming kindergartners registered by May 21 can attend the Jump Start day camp this summer.

The Tempe school's roundup is like a dress rehearsal for kindergarten. The kids - wearing school clothes that smell freshly laundered and with hair neatly combed - are curious, well-behaved and not at all anxious at the March 2 event. They're here with Mom and Dad, after all, and will be going home with them in less than an hour.

Teachers have left crayons and blank sheets of paper on the tables, next to the stacks of paperwork parents must complete. Classroom doors stand open invitingly, and there are lots of bulletin boards, easels and other learning tools to check out.

The kids look at and sometimes approach one another, then step back shyly, not quite ready to play or talk.

Moms and dads, attention shifting from kids to immunization and emergency-contact forms to Bustoz faculty, absorb tips on preparing for school. Do their kids know how to wash their hands with soap? Are they willing to sample at least one bite of everything on their plate at lunch? Can they recognize their name printed on their belongings?

"The kids will do fine," says Lisa Hobson, Bustoz principal. "They'll adjust, depending on the lead they take from their parents. So if the parents are relaxed and ready, the kids will be, too."

The pangs of letting go aside, it's a happy evening for the families here.

"I had such a positive school experience," Carol James says, "That's why I'm so excited for Bobby. I have friends who have been very emotional about this milestone, but for me it was more emotional leaving him at day care. I associate kindergarten with a wonderful time."

Bobby, 5, is sampling it as she speaks. He examines books on the library shelves and prepares a pretend meal in a play kitchen.

Too intrigued to take a break, he copies letters on the chalkboard - from right to left but correctly formed - and reads the numbers that circle the room, all the way past 100 without faltering.

"I'm excited for him to have this opportunity," Dad Bob James says. "He really seems ready for the educational challenge and the structure."

Christina Valles, who is registering her third child for kindergarten, knows a solid education is essential to the bright futures she dreams of for her children.

Sabrina, 9, is in third grade at Bustoz this year, and Vicente, 6, is in kindergarten. Frankie, 4, who's trying to delay going home until he finishes a jigsaw puzzle, will start kindergarten Aug. 9.

Still, Valles says, "it's hard to let go. Even with my second one, I almost cried, and it's not easy this time either. You don't want them to grow up so fast."

She knows someone will hit that fast-forward button again, and - already? - she'll be sending them off to college.

Reach the reporter at (602) 444-8120.