Wednesday morning, the halls of Payson Elementary School (PES) buzzed with activity as a rush of students tested the plan to rearrange classrooms to accommodate new teachers from Frontier Elementary School (FES) and Julia Randall Elementary (JRE) and somehow find space for special services such as autism and speech.
“We’re stuffed. Every closet and bit of space has been used to fit everyone,” said Principal Donna Haught.
Down the hallway from the office, Crissy Landis, a pretty woman with large, brown eyes and soft hair pulled back in a ponytail, watched her son Bray finish washing his hands. Bray, a towheaded child with bright eyes and a quick smile, seemed comfortable with the school already.
Yet, the first day of school for her first and only child represented a huge change in Landis’ life.
“He’s been going to Safe Haven for two days a week. Now he’ll be in school from 8 o’clock until 2:35 every day,” said Landis.
Landis grew up in Payson and graduated from Payson High School in 1993. She attended JRE when it operated out of the rock building. Now her son follows in her footsteps — but the start of the K-12 journey still causes anxiety. After all, Landis’ son is growing up.
“I’m a wreck,” said Landis.
Mother and son started the day with breakfast in the PES cafeteria, but Bray brought his own lunch for later.
Bray, unsure what to say about kindergarten, stood in the doorway. Suddenly, his eyes darted to the hallway and a smile lit up his face, “Hi Cru! What’re you doing?” he asks.
His friend, Cru, attended Safe Haven pre-school with him.
“I have a dragon on my shirt. What’re you doing?” said Cru.
The two scamper off into Darlene Daniels’ kindergarten classroom looking for something to play with.
Daniels, a former FES teacher, crouches at a low table to better see her students eye to eye. She helps him write his name.
“Don’t worry, here’s a new name tag, Justin,” she said.
The walls of the kindergarten room surround the class with brightly colored posters emblazoned with numbers, letters, cute sayings and classroom rules.
Daniels has introductory activities planned for her new students — name games, a school tour and reading “The Kissing Hand,” by Audrey Penn. The book tells the story of Chester Raccoon, a kindergartner unwilling to go to school until his mother teaches him a secret way to carry her love with him.
Back in the hallway, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters rush by to get students to their classrooms. Backpacks litter the hallways and mothers remind children of last-minute details.
“Your lunch has your name on it — OK?”
“Put your backpack on the hook.”
“What’s recess?” asks one newbie. “That’s when you get to play on the playground,” comes the reassuring answer.
As the clock ticks down the minutes before class starts, the activity in the hallways intensifies.
“This is chaos!” says one parent rushing to a classroom, tiny child in tow.
Promptly at 8 a.m., the overhead intercom crackles to life, “Parents, boys and girls, please leave the playground and go to your classrooms.”
Throughout the hallways, families hand their children to their teachers, some turning away with tears in their eyes.
Landis prepares to leave for work. She walks over to Bray, interrupting his play.
He turns to her, looking at her expectantly. “Give me a hug,” she whispers, hoping he feels her love all day long.