Veteran kindergarten teacher Melissa Moreno explained to a sea of anxious-looking 5-year-olds where to hang their coats and — the next most important thing — where to find the bathroom.
Across Idaho, educators at schools like Jefferson Elementary in Boise welcomed about 135,000 students back to the classroom Wednesday as 54 school districts and charter schools kicked off the 2023-24 year.
Helping Moreno with her new class of 23 kindergarteners were seven other teachers and support staff, one of which, interventionist Godefroid Ntawuyamara, speaks seven languages.
“You always have those first-day jitters,” Moreno said. “This is my 20th year and you still have that.”
Through a side gate and behind the school campus, parents and students poured into Jefferson’s playground and basketball courts. Mixed in with the various grades were the “littles,” as Moreno likes to call her kindergarteners.
“There’s probably going to be tears,” she said.
Among the other parents ushering kindergarteners into the cafeteria was Rabekah Conger and her son, Elwyn.
“It went better than I thought,” Conger said. “And so he didn’t get nervous and he didn’t want me to stay. He told me I could leave, and that’s fine, and maybe that’s what made it harder for me.”
Mixed into Elwyn’s class were the children of immigrants, who Ntawuyamara was there to help. As a full-time interventionist for the Boise School District, he helps new immigrant families with language barriers.
Jefferson Elementary has a staff of 41 who serve 220 students in K-6.
Originally from Burundi, Ntawuyamara speaks seven languages: French, English, Swahili, Kirundi, Kinyarwanda, Chichewa and Chinyandja. He quickly helped Moreno find the right name tag for a Somali child.
“This is maybe one of the most important days. It sets the tone for the rest of the year. We want every single student who walks through the fence to feel valued here, ” said Stacey McKenna, who is in her second year as principal.
“Today went great. I could feel the excited energy,” McKenna said.
Over in the portable classroom, second-year music teacher Kylie Sheffield said, “I think I have way less nerves, because last year it felt like 100% nerves. I am looking forward to doing a lot of technology units this year.”
Sheffield gets her students excited about music by connecting her lessons to the music students experience at home. “If they have music that they like to listen to with their family or with their friends, just connecting what we do in here with that.”
As the older students settled in and parents hugged their kindergartners a final time, Conger said, “So this whole week (Elwyn’s) been saying, ‘Mom, I’m gonna be a kindergartner, I’m going to be a kindergartner.”
Elwyn and 22 other 5-year-olds at Jefferson can officially say they’re kindergartners.