Smiles, tears, excitement as kindergartners begin 'long journey'

The only people on the quiet Hawes Elementary School campus at 7:45 a.m. Wednesday were Principal Julie Jennings and her teachers, eagerly awaiting a flood of children and parents as the Huntington Beach campus opened a new school year.

"Life's going to get crazy in about 10 minutes," Jennings said.

As soon as she made her comment, a father and his two sons walked up, then a grandmother and her granddaughter. Eventually, the school grounds were covered with excited students — from kindergarten through fifth grade — wearing backpacks seemingly twice their size and huge grins.

In Hawes Elementary's 40th year, it has 681 students, 86 of them kindergartners.

Jennings, who has been at the school for three years, said she was eager to see the new batch of kindergartners, as well as the returning students.

Though her daughter is now 19, Jennings said she still remembers her first day of kindergarten.

"As a parent, you're excited and nervous because you're letting your child go off on their own after you've coddled them and taken care of them," she said. "It's a scary thing, but it's so cool. It's the beginning of this long journey."

At about 8 a.m., dozens of parents gathered on a patch of grass outside the kindergarten wing, holding their children's hands or snapping pictures.

Joi Vutpakdi was with her 5-year-old son, Dylan, who stood quietly in line as he held his mother's hand.

"We've heard good things about the school and the teachers, so I think it's going to be good," Vutpakdi said. "He's excited to come back and see his friends that he met last year [at preschool]. I'm a little nervous. I'm leaving my baby again, but I'll be all right."

At about 8:30, the kindergarten teachers started to gather their students into their classrooms. It was the signal for parents to wrap up their picture taking and give their children a farewell kiss.

While the occasion drew mainly smiles and giggles from the kids, parent Tamarin Preston walked out of her son's classroom weeping.

"It's my last [child]," she said as she choked back tears. "I have a 21-year-old daughter, but it's been a really long time since I've done this."

Preston said she didn't have the same reaction when she dropped off her son, Sam, at La Petite Academy, where he attended preschool.

"It was different because you didn't have to be there at a certain time and he didn't have to stay there the whole time," she said. "We had our mornings, we hung out and I brought him when we wanted to go and picked him up when I wanted to."

Her husband, Jeff, chuckled as his wife cried, but he was there to console her.

"It's time for him to grow up and start doing new things and making new friends," he said. "It's all great and I'm really happy."

"I'm going to go home and cry now," Tamarin replied.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World