First day of school emotional for many Arlington students, parents

ARLINGTON — The first day of school is enough to make any kid a bit nervous, even if she's a veteran of first days of school like Kent Prairie Elementary fourth-grader Makenzie Leathers.

"I'm kinda scared," Makenzie said, shrugging her shoulders.

"Isn't the teacher your best friend's mom, though?" asked Makenzie's mom, Heidi Clark, whose son Joseph starts his junior year at Arlington High School this year.

As Makenzie bid farewell to her parents, Heidi Clark and Jason Leathers, on Sept. 7 for the first day of the 2011-12 school year in the Arlington School District, dad Jason laughed as he admitted to looking forward to more free time, while mom Heidi noted that her volunteer work at the school will mean that she'll still see her kids, and plenty of others, during the day.

"It's always an exciting feeling," Heidi said. "I look forward to them growing up into little people."

Fellow Kent Prairie student Jessica Henry claimed not to be nervous at all as she started her first day of first grade.

"I'm excited to see my friends," Jessica said, as mom Cathy and sister Brenna helped her get settled into her classroom. Brenna started fourth grade at Kent Prairie this year, and is looking forward to reading and math.

"I'd glad to get back into a routine," Cathy said, before laughing, "No more summer."

"It's such a milestone," said fellow Kent Prairie mom Dinnette Jeffrey, as she unpacked daughter Lily's backpack in the same first-grade classroom. "No more every-other-day stuff. This summer, Lily learned to swim and ride her bike without training wheels, so she's had a lot of firsts lately."

At Pioneer Elementary, it was James Lyons' second time giving away one of his kids to the kindergarten teacher, this time daughter Savannah.

"It's different with a baby girl," James said.

"I said I was going to cry either today or on Friday," laughed Becky Lyon's Savannah's mom.

Although Christina Vasquez and Brian Bowles saw their daughter head off to her fourth-grade classroom at Pioneer this year, their family still experiences the same feelings every year.

"We're equally nervous every time," said Vasquez, who arrived in her U.S. Navy uniform and had to return to duty as soon as she was done at Pioneer. "It's the anticipation. It's a transition. She's becoming a woman."

"No she's not," Bowles laughed. "She's still a kid."

Ella Andreyanov just started kindergarten at Pioneer, but she's already growing up a bit too quickly for mom Zhanna's comfort.

"She can't wait until she's big enough to ride the bus by herself," Zhanna said, with a catch in her voice. "Other kids cry on the first day, but she's so independent. Her father and I realized a year ago that she'd be starting kindergarten this year. We were shocked by how much the time is flying by."

Pioneer Elementary Principal Karl Olson credited his school staff with spending so much time on planning and preparation that the morning went off "like clockwork."

"This first week is when it all comes together," Olson said. "We have a great team of teachers that's able to work out the kinks in each year's schedules, because they've done it for so many years."

Although Olson emphasized the importance of learning, he also spoke to this year's crop of kindergarten parents to reassure them that their children's well-being was paramount.

"We want to send these kids home smiling, so that they'll want to come back the next day," Olson said. "We want to put the parents' minds at ease, so they'll know this is a safe place and their kids will be happy here."

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