“I’ve been in preschool for a million years,” said Macie Shearer. “I’ve been waiting a really long time to go to kindergarten. I’m 150 times excited!”
Macie, who loves the color pink and Hello Kitty, got to meet her teacher and explore her classroom this past Tuesday, Sept. 5. While El Morro’s first through fifth grade students settled into their first day of school, kindergarteners and their parents attended a one-hour orientation meeting.
Out on the playground, instructional aides helped students become familiar with the rules and procedures of their new school. Little ones climbed on brightly colored equipment and made simple crafts as they got to know their classmates.
Inside, Mary Blanton, Macie’s teacher, explained class expectations and answered parents’ questions. She demonstrated flexible seating options and shared her love for reading, but above all, Blanton stressed the importance of respect, responsibility, and kindness.
While parents sat in tiny chairs and filled out paperwork, they listened to brief presentations by PTA representatives and the school’s principal, Chris Duddy. Duddy praised his teaching staff and promised nervous parents that their children were in good hands.
After talking about the school’s dual focus on academic and social/emotional growth, Duddy introduced the district’s new director of social emotional support, Michael Keller. Duddy also informed parents that El Morro now has its own counselor; in previous years, counseling hours were divided between Top of the World and El Morro.
Marianne Lawson, El Morro’s counselor, offered suggestions to manage emotions triggered by the start of school. For a smoother transition, she suggested front-loading positive expectations and creating a regular goodbye routine. Lawson also stressed the importance of open-ended questions in parent-child communications.
Blanton, whose three sons attended El Morro when they were younger, explained that many parents feel separation anxiety at the beginning of kindergarten. Blanton said she teared up when her own son started school, even though she knew he would only be steps away from her classroom.
Now in her 29th year at El Morro, Blanton said she loves teaching because “we’re all on the same team, like a family.” In keeping with that feeling of family, one of Blanton’s current students, McKay Wilson, is the daughter of one of her former pupils, Alex Wilson.
Alex Wilson, who was in Blanton’s first grade class in 1989, said Mrs. Blanton was his favorite elementary school teacher. He described himself as a shy child and said he spent many recesses walking around holding Mrs. Blanton’s hand.
“She’s just so kind and friendly,” Wilson said of Blanton. “I’m really glad McKay is in her class.”
The oldest of five children educated in the Laguna school system, Wilson said his parents and grandparents still live in Laguna Beach. Now an attorney, Wilson explained that Laguna’s school system is one of the reasons he and his wife recently moved back to the area.
Although much remains the same at El Morro, one thing is dramatically different this year. El Morro’s 53 kindergarten students now spend all day at school; kindergarten is no longer a half-day program. Slightly staggered from the school’s regular bell schedule, the kindergarten program begins at 8:15 a.m. and ends at 2:10 p.m. Older students start at 7:55 a.m. and finish at 2:17 p.m.
Wilson is enthusiastic about the extended day. “I think it’s great for kids to get a jump start on learning and be able to spend more time in the classroom,” he said. “It also allows my wife to spend more time with our two little ones.”
Kristy Shearer, Macie’s mom, also said she’s happy about the new kindergarten hours. “My husband and I both work in education,” she explained, “so we know how important it is for teachers to have enough time to deliver the curriculum and really get to know the kids.”
Five-year-old Charlie Harris expressed support for the full-day program, but his reasons were slightly different. “I’m excited because I get to have lunch and snack here…and two recesses!”