Those challenges come later, though. This morning, he's occupied with reassuring parents.
By the time students are ready to file from the cafeteria to their class, parents have been gently prodded to say their goodbyes. A handful remain, catching every minute on videotape. They wave and brush away tears, experiencing one of the most poignant moments in their child's academic career.
"I hear a lot of cries," said parent Michael Lough, searching for his daughter Madison. But he knows she'll be OK. He and his wife have been telling her for weeks how much fun kindergarten will be and how many friends she'll make.
With seven kindergarten classrooms, Orchard Drive Elementary has the largest number of young students in Jackson.
"For the kindergartners, it's a brand-new world for them, and for mom and dad, too," Vangilder said.
Throughout the district, around 4,690 students returned for the first day back Monday, up from 4,662 last year.
Once students make the march to Pam Petzoldt's kindergarten classroom, they immediately start discussing the cafeteria again. The first order of business is determining lunch choices. For some, the choice between a ham and cheese sandwich or chicken nuggets takes careful consideration. Table by table, students are called to the front to designate their selection.
The rest sit quietly in their chairs, fidgeting with their backpacks and eyeing each other nervously. A few bold students chat with others or call out to Petzoldt, who is smiling, calmly organizing and assessing.
"When is class going to start?"
Another: "I gotta use the bathroom! Bad."
OK, follow me. See where it is down the hall?
"I have to go, too."
"Yeah, I can't hold it."
Just because one person needs to go, doesn't mean you have to, too.
Supplies are collected, everything broken down into the simplest of tasks.
Lunch boxes are placed on shelves, backpacks are hung. Slowly, the children are opening up, talking more.
"Is it time for lunch yet?"
No, it's just 9 o'clock. We have a lot to go.
Time to line up. Petzoldt is pleasantly pleased. Things are going smoothly. She reminds the class she needs to see their beautiful eyes. She explains why there's no talking in the hallway.
Thirteen boys assemble to her left, seven girls on her right. Most of these students have been to preschool or day care and are used to structure. They already know how to line up, raise their hand and hold a pencil.
But for Petzoldt, there is still a slight period of adjustment.
"At the end of the kindergarten year, everything's so simple -- they know the routine and schedule. At the first day of school, you're right back to where you started from again," Petzoldt said.
Entering her 20th year of teaching, nothing fazes her. She is a veteran, and for the most part, has seen it all. But she knows no year of teaching is the same. She's been preparing for the school year for weeks, and still has first-day jitters.
Every class learns differently, and new methods and activities are designed. When she first started, students who could write their names and knew their letters were considered gifted. Now, the children are expected to read books and write paragraphs by the end of the year.
After a bathroom break, she gathers the five-year-olds, 20 in all, on the carpet. Each bottom goes in a designated square, hands are kept in laps.
She opens Audrey Penn's "The Kissing Hand," about a raccoon that would rather stay home with mom than go to school for the first time. The class discusses their feelings about the first day.
As a kindergarten teacher, Petzoldt knows she is as much a mother, grandmother and counselor-like figure as she is a teacher.
"At the beginning of the year, you get the kids and they're like babies ... As the year goes on, you see so many light bulbs. I get to see their excitement when they read a book for the first time or write a sentence. Something that's so neat is that they all love to learn," she said.
By the afternoon, the children are sleepy. Finally, it's time for buses, "one of the biggest worries of the day," Petzoldt said.
Students have to walk down three hallways to get to the buses and there is potential for a misstep. The school day has been extended at the high school, junior high and middle school to accommodate for an "advisory" period, resulting in a change of routes from last year.
Off to a good start
Carefully, the Orchard students are loaded onto buses, and car riders scamper to their parents. At 4:25 p.m., over an hour has passed since the dismissal bell and some students are still not home. Delivery is expected to quicken as students become more familiar with procedures.
But they are headed in the right direction, and Petzoldt has successfully completed her 20th first day. "Some years are better than others, and this group is responding really well," she said.
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