Five-year-old Isabelle Hlavaty had firm instructions for her mom on the first day on kindergarten last week.
“She told me I was not allowed to cry in front of her friends,” said Jenni Hlavaty, Isabelle’s mom.
So Jenni Hlavaty heeded her daughter’s instruction and waited until she got back in her car to shed a few tears on Aug. 24 after watching Isabelle walk into Hollywood School with the rest of her kindergarten class for her first regular day of kindergarten.
Isabelle was anxious to start school at Hollywood, where her sister Emma is a fifth-grader and where her eighth-grade sister, Ellie, had attended. After receiving multiple hugs and kisses from her mom she told her mom that she could go.
The first day of kindergarten these days is often more emotional for parents than children.
It was particularly emotional for Jenni Hlavaty because Isabelle is her youngest child.
“She’s my baby,” Hlavaty said.
Parents often feel conflicting emotions when their kids start kindergarten. They’re proud that the child is marking another milestone by starting school but often find themselves a bit melancholy as they realize their little darlings are starting to grow up.
“It’s surprising that they’re here already,” said Nate Anderson the father of Hollywood kindergartener Natalie Anderson. “You have a little baby and all of a sudden they are off to school. It doesn’t take long.”
Marlowe Kachlic was full of those conflicting emotions when she and her husband, Mark, brought their son Henry, the oldest of two kids, to Hollywood School for kindergarten.
“I got a little choked up bringing him in today, but ultimately I’m excited,” Marlowe Kachlic said.
Her husband said it wasn’t as tough as he thought it might be.
“I thought it was going to be way worse for me and it was perfectly fine,” Mark Kachlic said. “My wife was getting a little weepy this morning when we were walking away but that was about it.”
Hollywood and other local schools go out of their way to ease the transition to school for kindergartners and their parents.
For more than a decade on the first day of school – this year it was Aug. 23 — all four other elementary schools in Riverside District 96 have held a “teddy bear picnic,” sponsored by the schools’ PTAs.
Before the picnic, students and their parents visit their kindergarten classrooms in small groups to meet the teacher and get acclimated. At Hollywood, kindergarten teacher Brianna Kwasiborski, paraprofessional Maty Potts and two other teachers were there to greet parents and students with bright smiles and brief conversation to make them feel welcome and comfortable.
Kwasiborski (known as Miss Kwas to her students) showed each little student their seats and their cubbies for their backpacks and jackets. She took a photo of each student standing on a small platform holding a “first day of kindergarten” sign. She even read a story to one student after asking the little girl what books she liked.
Afterward there was a nearly 90-minute-long picnic held outside for the kindergarteners and their parents at Hollywood. While many of the kindergartners romped on the Hollywood playground, parents chatted and got to know each other.
The picnic is a way for the kids and parents to meet each other and become more familiar with the school, said Hollywood Principal Kim Hefner.
“I think it’s nice that they have the picnic the day before, so everybody can meet each other and they can meet the teacher,” Jenni Hlavaty said. “It’s not like walking into something brand new.”
It worked, because on the second day of school Friday there were no tears from the Hollywood kindergarteners as they said goodbye to their parents.
“They had already met me so they gave their last hug and followed me right in,” Kwasiborski said on Friday. “We didn’t have a single tear; it was incredible.”
Kwasiborski is starting her second year of teaching at Hollywood and third year teaching overall after graduating from Indiana University.
On Thursday the kids seemed raring to go.
Henry Kachlic said that he was really looking forward to kindergarten, because he would now get to see his friend Parker Clemons every day.
Isabelle Hlavaty was impatient for school to begin. In fact, she was disappointed that she did not start at the regular time on Thursday, like her sister. Isabelle has attended many Hollywood School functions in the past and is already a familiar face at the school.
“I love one of my teachers here,” she said, referring to Kwasiborski.
While the other local school districts don’t have picnics on the first day of school they do take steps to make kindergarteners as comfortable as possible before school starts.
In Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95, parents and students are in the kindergarten classroom together on the first day of school for an abbreviated day that lasts for only about an hour and serves as an orientation.
“It’s just a good way for the parents and kids to come in and I just feel like the kids are more comfortable,” said Brook Park School Principal Mike Sorensen.
At Komarek School in North Riverside and Lincoln School in Brookfield, kindergartners and their parents can meet their teacher and view their classroom on an evening the week before school starts, but parents typically do not go into the classroom on the first day of kindergarten.
“Our teachers are very good about going outside and meeting and greeting with the parents and the students,” said Komarek Principal Jason Gold. “The overall goal is to have the children just go in with the teacher.”
At Congress Park School, on the day before school starts there’s a teacher meet-and-greet for kindergartners and their parents, who come in for about an hour to drop off supplies and visit the classroom. But on the first day the kids went into school without the parents.
Kindergarteners generally start school full of innocence and enthusiasm, though some of their enthusiasms may not last.
Hollywood kindergartner Penelope Wendell said that she was excited about doing homework.