Editor's Note: This column originally ran in September 2010, shortly after I became editor of the Basking Ridge Patch. The students who are mentioned in this article are now sophomores, mostly at Ridge High School. By coincidence, I ran into one of the girls who sat next to my son in kindergarten at last night's Ridge vs. Immaculata football game.
Nine years ago, with tears blurring my eyes, I handed over my younger son at the Henry Street entrance to the Oak Street Elementary School, where he was about to begin kindergarten. That was in September 2001.
A few days later, many more of us were in tears, or just in shock. On Sept. 11, 2001, I remember reaching for juice boxes in aisle 2 at Kings Supermarket in Bernardsville, when another shopper informed me that a plane, then a second, had rammed into the World Trade Center in New York City.
By the morning of Sept. 12, I was embracing women I hardly knew as we dropped our children off for another day of kindergarten at the Oak Street School. The scene seemed unreal. Even those who hadn't directly lost a loved one or acquaintance had friends or spouses who had been downtown on that terrible day, and still were reacting to the aftermath.
During that time, the school day provided a needed framework for our children. We certainly didn't want them home with us, watching the unfolding saga on television, or hearing sad stories from neighbors. School was normalcy.
Hopefully—and thankfully—this year's first days of kindergarten haven't been so dramatic, but they always are memorable. When I picked up my older son after his first day of kindergarten, (at the elementary school named in honor of Teddy Roosevelt in Oyster Bay, N.Y.) he had a question for me.
"Where do you want me to be good, in school or at home? I can't do both."
Like any sane parent, I selected school as the main venue for his best behavior. Little did I know he would pretty much stick to that bargain for the next 13 years. He sometimes arrived home horribly cranky and pent up. But his teachers and guidance counselors (including during his nine years in the Bernards Township school system) sometimes commented that he such was a sweet kid in school.
Different parents react different ways to the start of kindergarten, as do their children. For me, it was easier to launch a child who was almost six into the public school system than it was to send off one who was barely five years old.
On this past Tuesday, Sept. 7, Carol Hubbard said she felt her kindergartner was prepared, especially since he had an older brother in third grade who took him by the hand as he walked into the Oak Street School. "He had a good attitude," she said of her kindergartner.
Kindergartners enter four preK-5 elementary schools in Bernards Township. The Mount Prospect Parent Teacher Organization held a first-day coffee for parents immediately after they had dropped off their children at that school, in The Hills section of the township.
Liberty Corner Principal Kathleen Pecoraro said that elementary school's new kindergartners had received a tour of the building to help them acclimate to a new and larger learning environment.
The Liberty Corner school also assigns fourth- and fifth-graders as "learning buddies" for kindergartners, she said. She said the older students enter the kindergarten classes and then accompany the younger children to the line for either cars or buses.
"It also helps to build a sense of community as the kindergartners and their 'buddies' develop meaningful relationships and connections," Pecoraro said. "This process also provides our older students with opportunities to help our youngest students as they assume this responsibility. It is fun to watch the older students taking care of the little kindergartners. It's what a caring community does."
As for us, we found we had been assigned a wonderful kindergarten teacher, Miss Krauss, who kept the year on track no matter what had happened in the outside world.
The class of children who entered kindergarten in September 2001 this year start high school!
Although it is much after the fact, it's never too late to point out that Bernards Township school officials kept their heads and reacted with both common sense and sensitivity on Sept. 11, 2001.
They did not panic, even when school systems that were hundreds or thousands of miles from the attack were sending children home from school. School continued for the full day on Sept. 11, as school officials galvanized to make sure that no children would arrive home that day to an empty house where the usual routine had been disrupted by the tragedy.
Your children are in good hands.