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Kindergartners get pumped up for school

Every year, thousands of Richmond-area five-year-olds show up on the first day of school in September -- only to be turned away.

For kindergartners, their parents soon learn, being "on time" for the start of the school year is actually too late. Because of requirements for school entrance – including proof of age, immunizations and residency – the registration process should begin weeks earlier. In an ideal world, in fact, all kindergartners would be registered by spring.

That's why superintendents from nine regional school districts gathered in Richmond in January to make a historic announcement promoting early enrollment: for the first time ever, 10 localities would share a common date for kindergarten registration.

On April 7, Harvie Elementary School in eastern Henrico will be one of the schools open for registration throughout the school day, and for evening hours as well.

Terry Hill, who is in her third year of teaching kindergarten at Harvie, has a background in early education. The prospect of a boost in spring registration attendance is welcome, Hill says, not simply because parents will receive an information packet about paperwork requirements for fall, or because future students will get a chance to meet teachers. The early registration will also provide Hill with the chance to inform parents of the all-important readiness skills that children should practice over the summer.

Last September, Hill started out the year with several students who could not distinguish a letter from a number. In the same classroom, she had students who were already reading.

"By Christmas, they were all on the same page," says Hill, while noting that with a little preparation in recognizing letters and numbers, those students could have avoided playing catch-up.

Parents who attend registration day will learn how to help their children with reading readiness, as well as with personal and independence skills -- from zipping their coats to practicing self-control.

At the beginning of the year, Hill recalls, she had one child who insisted on standing instead of sitting, and another who would enter the classroom at a run -- "from one end of the room to another, knocking things off the table."

"Sometimes," Hill observes, "they've never been in a situation where they had to sit in place or be still."

Class of 2023
Enter the classroom on a Friday in March, however, and all is orderly and calm. A class ambassador greets visitors at the door with a handshake and bravely musters a successful, if fleeting, moment of eye contact.

"My name is Nina Rich," says the ambassador shyly. "And I am going to graduate in 2023!"

After students finish a writing exercise and join Hill on the classroom's Oval Carpet, she introduces her special guests of the day: a bucket of worms from the Hill home garden. Students eager to touch a worm get a chance to pass it around; before long, a few reluctant students join in.

Even this simple exercise, Hill explains later, is a learning experience.

"It's about empowerment," she says, "and learning confidence."

Like taking turns at being the classroom ambassador, handling the worms gives children practice in getting out of their comfort zones. "It shows them," says Hill, 'I was scared to do this, but I did it.' "

Next, the students practice their tallying skills, totaling the votes of those who like worms and those who don't. A cheer goes up once the results are in: the worms win in a landslide, 15-1.

After her students leave for physical education, Hill notes that upon their return to class on Monday, they will be writing about the worm experience.

"Four or five sentences," she marvels. "I never would've thought two years ago that [kindergartners] could write like this."

Virtually all the students know at least 100 sight words and can read, as well; some are reading chapter books. But it's the parents, Hill emphasizes, who deserve most of the credit for those achievements. Although all her parents work during the day, they have supported her classroom efforts in the evenings through practice with flash cards and books.

Getting pumped
Observing her students' achievements produces mixed emotions, reflects Hill with a wistful smile. "This is the time of year I get sad. They came in on all different levels, but there's been so much growth in each of them."

At the same time, she welcomes the chance to see her students move on -- especially since she still sees many former students on a daily basis.

"The second graders come in and give me hugs," she says. "I ask the boys, 'Are you too big for a sticker?'" None of them, she adds with a smile, has turned down a sticker so far.

Not all students will move on to first grade, however. Among those who will be repeating kindergarten is a student whose enrollment was months late due to delays in getting vaccinated.

But even missing the first two weeks of school, says Hill, can set a student back. It's during those weeks that students learn the rules, adjust to routines, and begin to take ownership of the place. "Missing that piece is a big deal."

A student who enters school late will also miss out on the sense of excitement that pervades at April registration and August orientation.

On registration day, says Hill, teachers and staff will go to great lengths to fuss over students and get them pumped up about entering school. "It's a very warm first start. It lays the pathway to orientation and lets them know what to expect. They're getting comfy, getting inside the school, knowing they'll need to bring a snack and to have supplies."

By the first day of school in September, Hill points out, students who attend registration day will have already had four interactions with her: registration, orientation, and a welcoming phone call and post card. It's not unusual, she says, for those students to greet her with a hug -- "like greeting a friend again."

The well-prepared student, she adds, will also be more likely to grasp the concept of personal responsibility for his or her success, and thus be more likely to succeed in school.

"Kindergarten isn't hard," says Hill. "But you need to learn to read in kindergarten, because everything builds on that.

"Once they're reading . . . [they realize] school is not a chore. It's a positive experience, and it's fun."

Kindergarten registration will take place April 7 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Henrico elementary schools. For detailed information, including a list of answers to Frequently Asked Questions, visit readychildren.net.
Community

Glen Allen student to perform at Carnegie Hall

Thanks to a first-place win in The American Protege International Vocal Competition 2014, Glen Allen High School student Matija Tomas will travel to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall in December.

At the first-place winners recital in Weill Hall, Matija will perform Giacomo Puccini’s opera aria, “Chi il bel sogna di doretta.” She will perform with other vocalists from around the world and have the opportunity to win other awards and scholarships.

Locally, Thomas has performed with Richmond’s renowned Glorious Christmas Nights, Christian Youth Theatre, and WEAG’s Urban Gospel Youth Choir. > Read more.

Gayton Baptist Church dedicates new outreach center


The John Rolfe YMCA and Gayton Baptist Church have partnered in an effort to bring greater health and wellness opportunities to the community.

Through this partnership, the John Rolfe Y will run Youth Winter Sports programs, including basketball and indoor soccer, in Gayton’s newly renovated $5.5 million outreach center that features a new gymnasium, youth and teen space, social space with café, meeting space and full service commercial kitchen. > Read more.

Henricus Historical Park to host Publick Day Sept. 20

Henricus Historical Park will commemorate its anniversary during Publick Day, a signature annual event that celebrates the establishment of the second successful English settlement in the New World. In September 1611, Sir Thomas Dale, along with soldiers, tradesmen and farmers, ventured from Jamestown to create the Citie of Henricus. Leaders of Henricus developed the first English hospital, chartered the first college in North America, established tobacco as the first cash crop in Virginia, and created a place where Pocahontas lived and met John Rolfe.

Publick Day will take place Saturday, Sept. 20, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free and parking is $5 per vehicle. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Extras sought for AMC’s ‘TURN’

Paid extras are being sought to appear in the AMC television series TURN: Washington's Spies, which will begin filming its second season in the Richmond area at the end of September and continue through February.

No experience is required, but producers say that extras must have flexible availability, reliable transportation and a positive attitude.

Arvold Casting is holding an open call on Sunday, Sept. 21 and is seeking men, women and children who are Caucasian, African American and Native American, with thin to average builds and who can realistically portray people living in Revolutionary War times. Long hair is a plus but not a must. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


For our Top 10 calendar events this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


Check out these three B’s in Henrico this weekend: books, bluegrass and “Born Yesterday.” Other activities to participate in – and feel good about – are the 15th annual James River Regional Cleanup and the 5th annual Richmond Out of the Darkness Community Walk. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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