Kindergarten acts as a poignant transition between babyhood and childhood.
Parents sense this when they drop off their little ones that first day of school. Questions swirl through their heads: Will they be safe? What will they learn? Will they have fun?
Megan Reed, parent of kindergartner Kiara, admitted that first day tugged at her heart, “I had tears, but she did fine.”
Kiara attends Mimi Dailey’s afternoon kindergarten class at Payson Elementary School, (PES). Reed trusts Dailey to take good care of her daughter.
“Kiara’s older brother had Mrs. Dailey and loved her,” said Reed walking in from the playground where children gather in the morning before class.
From the morning chaos of the playground, teachers create order marshaling the children into lines to walk to their classrooms. Reed follows Dailey’s class to the classroom.
Kiara skips with her friends as her mother talks.
“I’ve never felt unwelcome in Mrs. Dailey’s class,” said Reed.
Normally, Kiara and her classmates attend afternoon classes, but today they attend during the morning kindergarten session. Once a month, Payson schools run a half-day schedule for teachers’ professional development.
This year marks the second year the school district has had half-day kindergarten classes. Daily, along with Jamie Goldman, run the two half-day kindergarten classes. The other three teachers have full-day tuition-supplemented classes (tuition is $185 per month). This means Dailey and Goldman have 50 children each, but Dailey enjoys teaching more children.
“I chose to teach the morning and afternoon classes because I feel I can touch more kids,” she said.
Reed appreciates the half day classes as well, “If you send kids to an all-day class when they are used to being at home, it’s difficult. This way, it’s nice to feed and take care of them at home,” said Reed.
As Kiara walks into the classroom, Reed gives her a big hug and says, “I’ll pick you up at 10:45 sweetie.”
Kiara hugs her back then quickly returns to her friends.
Dailey has set up her classroom to stimulate the senses. Posters and pictures of numbers, letters and simple words such as “and,” “is,” “like,” “said” and “was” cover the walls. A rocking chair sits cozily at the front of the room. The whole space looks and feels like a house. It even smells like cookies baking with the smell of butternut-maple potpourri permeating the classroom.
At the start of the day: roll call.
Before Dailey starts to call names, Gage Venable announces, “Today, I’m going to have a nap.”
His classmate McKay Hintze’s head sags into his arms from exhaustion. He barely hears Dailey call his name.
“McKay, are you here?” asks Dailey.
“McKay is asleep,” said Marianne Marinez, a cute little brown haired girl sitting at McKay’s table.
“McKay, wake up sweetie. Tell me you are here. You can take a nap when you go home today,” said Dailey.
McKay pulls his head up slowly and drawls out, “I’m here ...”
Finished with roll call, Daily dons a perky pink apron and chooses a student as her helper for the day.
“Kiara, will you come up and choose an apron? I’d like you to be my helper today,” said Daily.
Kiara chooses a red flowered apron and proudly returns to her seat ready to help.
To prepare the children to sit and absorb lessons on the alphabet and numbers, Dailey turns on rousing music, inspiring the kids to march in place and use hand movements. Sufficiently stirred up, the kids get down to the business of learning.
This week, all of the kindergarten classes study the letter “F.”
Similar to Sesame Street days, the children sing songs about the letter “F” and later on will meet a firefighter and climb on a fire truck.
“Who is coming today?” asks Dailey.
“A fire truck!” reply the kids.
“Who drives the fire truck?” said Dailey.
“Firemen!” say the children.
Dailey and the other kindergarten classes have scheduled the fire truck to arrive at 10 a.m. Before they arrive, the kids attend a computer lab with Dorothy McKim.
All kindergartners attend the lab twice a week for 30 minutes at a time. The children learn how to manipulate the mouse, point and click and interact with the computer, said McKim.
“Most of what they do is instructional. They need to know how to insert a CD, turn the computer on and off, and move the mouse. The activities train them to listen and follow directions,” said McKim.
The kindergartners don’t just lose themselves in their computer work; they often turn to each whispering and giggling.
“I made a match!”
After finishing in the computer lab, the students line up and return back to the room where they learn about the number five.
Dailey teaches them to draw the number five with a poem.
“Number five has a big fat tummy and with his hat he looks so funny,” she rhymes with each student individually. After they successfully draw a whole page of fives, she gives them a Frito.
Suddenly, it’s 10 a.m.
“OK children, the fire truck is here! Kiara, help me get everyone to line up,” said Dailey.
Chatting excitedly, the children line up and walk out to see the fire truck.
“Look children, do you see the “F” on the truck? Where is it?” asks Dailey.
The students point to the “F” on the door of the truck.
Sean Minniss, a reserve firefighter stands in front of the class and gives a tour of the equipment on the truck.
“Here’s our hose to connect to the fire hydrant. Here’s the ax we use to chop through the roof or walls to get to the fire,” said Minniss.
After the truck tour, firefighter Daniel Malloy stands by the side of the truck to suit up and show the kids what a fireman would look like if they had to rescue one of the kids from a burning building.
“If you’re ever in a fire, this is all the stuff I’ll put on so I can get through the smoke and the fire to get to you,” said Malloy.
He dons headgear to protect his head and neck. Then he shows the students his big coat and heavy gloves. Pulling on the air tank, helmet and mask, he activates the air. His breathing sounds like Darth Vader from Star Wars.
“Don’t be afraid of me if I walk through the flames. I’m there to save you. Stay down low and don’t breathe the smoke. Come towards me and I’ll get you out of there,” said Malloy.
All too soon, the fire truck tour ends.
“Boys and girls, can we give the firemen a big thank you? asks Dailey.
“Thank you!” the children yell.
They return to the classroom, grab their backpacks and line up to wait for their parents to pick them up.
“Today is our first all parent pick up. The afternoon kids usually take the bus,” said Dailey.
A line of cars waits for the children. Kiara’s mother pulls up to take her home.
“Goodbye, Mrs. Dailey!” Kiara waves as she leaves for the day.
As Gage’s parents arrive he tells Dailey, “I’m taking a nap for sure!”