Parents send kids off with a Boo-Hoo Breakfast

One Bremerton elementary school has figured out the best way to help kindergarten parents cope with letting their students go on the first day of school: a "Boo-Hoo Breakfast."

Katie Smith absolutely did not want to drop her son off at kindergarten on Monday morning.

Her son, Kristian, is one of 80 kindergarteners enrolled at West Hills S.T.E.M. Academy this school year. As a mother, it was her first time dropping off a child to school, an experience she didn’t think would be so unsettling. She also toted along her 2-year-old daughter, and said she remembers when her first born was that same age, making it difficult to accept how quickly her children are growing up.

“I didn’t expect to get emotional,” she said, with fresh tears welling up in her red-rimmed eyes. Her son got upset upon entering the classroom, she said, bringing her to tears several times throughout the morning.

Smith found herself at the school’s annual “Boo-Hoo Breakfast” where she and other parents mingled with mixed emotions about the big first day of school for kindergarteners. Boxes of tissues were placed on tables for weepy parents.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for parents coming together and connecting,” said Lisa Heaman, school principal. “Instead of going to the parking lot to cry alone in your car, come cry with us. It’s a happy cry.”

For the last several years, the school has hosted the breakfast for its parents of kindergarten students after they’ve taken their children to their classes. The gathering allows for parents to cry, if needed, and to interact with other parents while learning about valuable school information from school officials. Breakfast menu items are offered, including scones, muffins and orange juice, all provided by the school’s PTA. This year, the school counselor, principals, transportation director, office help and PTA members spoke to parents to calm their anxieties about their child starting the 2013-2014 school year.

“Our main concern on the first day is everybody is happy and not scared and know what’s going on,” said Amy Archuleta, vice principal and instructional coach. “I guess I just know what it’s like to be a parent of a kindergarten student. I certainly understand how it feels. I know what it’s like to let go of our babies.”

Francine Flanagan sent her last child off to kindergarten this year, but said her daughter is excited about the new opportunity. Flanagan’s daughter, Kieran, stood close to her mother, grasping her hand while curiously watching her peers on the playground.

“It’s actually a little sad,” she said. “It is sad to see your last one enter school.”

Flanagan said her daughter is comfortable with the campus already because she’s tagged along with her mother for various PTA events, like popcorn days. Flanagan hopes she’ll soon be employed by the school since she has an application pending, which would make the transition for her last child into kindergarten a little easier. She currently works as a substitute teacher at the campus.

The first day of kindergarten is a scary prospect for parents who can’t always be involved on campus, staff members said. Heaman said one of the biggest points of concern for parents is the prospect of their child riding the bus alone to school. To ease fears, the school brings in Marco DiCicco, Student Transportation and Safety Supervisor for the Bremerton School District to answer any questions parents may have about routes and policies.

“Safety’s always going to be our first priority,” DiCicco told parents. “Truly this is the safest way to get to and from school.”

Prior to the breakfast, parents were welcomed into the classroom to watch their student settle into their new home-away-from-home. Teachers stood at the ready to answer parent questions while the school’s newest occupants shoved backpacks into cubbies. Brightly colored posters plastered the walls, and crayons and coloring worksheets covered tiny circular tables in one kindergarten classroom.

“Kindergarten is always my favorite because when that lightbulb goes off, there’s nothing better,” said teacher Patty Petersen. She had her new pupils sit down for coloring time immediately after coming in from recess. Some parents crouched down next to their students to give final hugs and kisses goodbye. Others reminded their children not to run inside when trying to quickly search for an open seat. One student told his mom, “don’t worry” when she told him she was unsure where he should place his backpack.

Despite leaving her son crying in his classroom, Smith said she was grateful for the breakfast and time to settle down after the big drop-off event.

“It was nice to see another mom I know,” she said of attending the breakfast. “It was nice to have her reassure me it would be OK.”