COLUMBIA — School doesn’t start until Thursday, but Conner McCullah’s backpack is already full.
As the blonde kindergartner reached into the pink bag decorated with a picture of a cat wearing a tiara, she announced its contents aloud.
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“Pencils, crayons, notebook and glue,” she said.
Conner is one of about 90 kindergartners at Fairview Elementary who will start school for the first time this fall.
To help students like Conner, four kindergarten teachers at Fairview welcomed children to their classrooms Monday night at one of several kindergarten orientations and open houses scheduled at Columbia public schools this week.
“It’s important because we want our kids to come in excited,” Fairview principal Diana DeMoss said. “We want them to come in and have a positive experience.”
At Blue Ridge Elementary, the smell of grilled hot dogs welcomed students, parents and teachers into the school's first kindergarten picnic orientation, held Monday night.
Amanda Wright, one of four kindergarten teachers at Blue Ridge, said she liked having the opportunity to interact with parents on an individual level.
Blue Ridge principal Tim Majerus had another reason to feel closer to first-time kindergarten parents. Majerus told the group he would be dropping his son off at college in the next few days, and he could relate emotionally.
“My experiences are just like yours,” Majerus told the group.
Parents experienced jitters at Fairview, too.
While Yalonna Nelson waited for orientation to start, she looked at her son, D’Vonte Nelson, and sighed.
“He’s going by himself,” she said. “I hope I don’t cry.”
Ann Baker, whose son, Miles, began kindergarten last year, said tears are a possibility when her daughter starts on Thursday.
“I used to think it was ridiculous when parents cried when they dropped their kids off at kindergarten,” she said. But “I totally cried when I dropped (Miles) off last year.”
At Blue Ridge, Wright said the first day is tougher for the parents than for their kids.
“Some kids cry, but they adjust pretty quickly when we get into the day,” Wright said.
Students at Blue Ridge already seemed to be adjusting Monday night. As Majerus addressed parents in the gym, several soon-to-be kindergartners pointed excitedly at athletic equipment in a closet to Majerus' left.
And at Fairview, D’Vonte already knew what his favorite part of school would be.
“I like to go outside and play,” he said, grinning.
No matter the level of excitement or anxiety, Wright said she sees kindergarten orientations as an important time for teachers to share one simple message with students and parents alike.
“We’re here because we love the children first — and we teach them second," Wright said.
Elementary school “meet the teacher” nights and kindergarten orientations continue Tuesday and Wednesday.