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Kindergarteners’ first school day is really a first for many

By William Inman Daily Planet Staff
Thursday August 31, 2000

A teary-eyed Kaiza Robinson, 5, sat by the door of Jeannie Gee’s kindergarten class about 8:15 a.m. Wednesday morning at Le Conte Elementary School, tugging on her pigtails and wondering just where her mother left her, and when is she coming back. 

“I want my mom,” she said as she sniffled.  

Five-year-old Edward Fong didn’t want to let go of his mom to go to the brave new world called kindergarten. His classmate Watson Berreman, also 5, was doing the same. 

“He didn’t go to preschool first,” said Jennie Fong, Edward’s mother. “So this really is his first day of school.” 

The newest editions to the some 350 kids at Le Conte Elementary, at 2241 Russell St., were suffering a little separation anxiety and the first-day-of-school blues. 

So were the moms and dads, who hung around in classrooms – sometimes with their little ones fused to their necks – and in the new teacher’s lounge until a little after 9 a.m. 

Things were a little easier for Eric Saddler, 5, because his mom is the principal and right across the hall. 

“I have a little anxiety myself,” said second-year principal Patricia Saddler as she walked into Mrs. Gee’s class taking snapshots of Eric as he made blue and red pancakes from clay. 

By 10 a.m., when Gee’s class lined up to go to the play area, all the tears and fears were gone. And Kaiza, Edward, Watson and Eric all romped around like pint-sized puppies with jump-ropes and bouncy balls. 

With $3,661,659 in measure A funds, Le Conte now has a modernized auditorium, and a new library and office.  

Saddler said construction finished in the spring. 

The first day last year, she said, “didn’t go quite as smoothly.” 

The main hallway was open the first two weeks, but then closed and the kids had to be redirected.  

“The construction went in phases,” she said. “We didn’t have a library, and part of the building was closed off. There’s a lot of excitement that the construction is finished.” 

What’s also exciting is the unique 14-year-old farm and garden science lab program that Le Conte maintains, that invites the kids to get dirty as they study soil and practice composting. Last year the school received part of a $1 million state Nutrition Network Grant, and the school will integrate the teaching in the garden into the school’s core curriculum and will use vegetables grown and cooked by the children into their daily diet. 

Also inhabiting the garden are ducks, rabbits, a turkey, chickens and the newest editions – Aries, the black Irish mountain lamb and Susie the goat. 

The school has also launched a new five-year Spanish dual immersion program that children begin in kindergarten and complete in the fifth grade.  

Kindergartners and first graders spend 90 percent of the day learning Spanish. Second and third graders concentrate on learning English.  

Fourth and fifth graders study both languages. 

Saddler said the goal is that by the fifth grade the students are bilingual and biliterate.  

Half of the children in the class are native Spanish speakers and the other half are native English speakers or speak another native tongue.  

Two of the 16 kindergarten and first grade classes are dual immersion classes, she said. 

Saddler said so many parents want their children in the class that the kids are chosen by lottery. 

“I missed the lottery (for Eric),” she said. 

But that hasn’t kept her from enrolling her son at Le Conte, even though he was originally assigned to Berkeley Arts Magnet. 

“I think I have some of the best kindergarten teachers here,” she said. “And I can keep him here with me.”