A morning in the life of a new GCPS student

Documenting the day of a kindergarten student.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Colby McClendon, 4, right, follows his sister Jenna to a classroom for his first day of kindergarten at Cooper Elementary School in Loganville on Monday morning. Jenna, now a thrid-grade student, had the same kindergarten teacher, Lisa Baker, as her brother now has as his kindergarten teacher.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Colby McClendon, 4, right, follows his sister Jenna to a classroom for his first day of kindergarten at Cooper Elementary School in Loganville on Monday morning. Jenna, now a thrid-grade student, had the same kindergarten teacher, Lisa Baker, as her brother now has as his kindergarten teacher.


VIDEO: Colby's first day of kindergarten

Documenting the day of a kindergarten student.

Documenting the day of a kindergarten student.

Editor’s Note: The Daily Post spent time with a Gwinnett County Public Schools student and his family on Monday. The following is a story that chronicles a morning in the life of one child among nearly 163,000 in GCPS on the first day of school.

LOGANVILLE — It’s 7:15 a.m. in suburban Gwinnett County, and Katie and Collin McClendon sit across from each other sipping coffee.

Dim lamp light illuminates the den, casting soft shadows on the rough surface of a stonework fireplace. Beside it: a wicker basket full of glossy magazines and a toy workbench with a set of multicolored, plastic tools.

Collin stares into the blank, gray reflection of the television set. A cabinet beneath the flat-screen TV holds neatly-arranged columns of Disney DVDs, stacked 10 high. A tiny red light glows on the cable box.

Katie clears her throat.

“They never sleep this late,” she says. “It must be the rain. I never like to get up on rainy Mondays either.”

Muffled thumps from above.

Collin’s head turns, following the path of an 8-year-old girl stumbling down the stairs, sleep still in her eyes as she falls into her mother’s arms. Behind her, a bright-faced, 4-year-old boy with blond hair descends the steps, stopping halfway down to peer between the wooden beams of the banister.

Today is Colby’s first day of kindergarten. Like nearly 163,000 other students Monday morning, the McClendon children awakened for the inaugural day of Gwinnett County Public Schools 2012-13 academic year, ending summer vacation. For he and fellow kindergartners (Class of 2025), it’s the start of something entirely new.

Waking up

While big sister, Jenna, turns on the TV, flipping it to a morning cartoon, Colby plops down in a bean bag chair. She sits down next to him. The two stare quietly at the plasma screen, watching flickering, flashing images of animation.

From the kitchen, mom asks if he wants a Nutrigrain bar or Gogurt with his cup of milk for breakfast. And does he want Chex Mix or Cheez-its for a mid-day snack? She places the snack bags in a brown paper sack with Colby’s name and “Peanut Allergy” written in black magic marker.

The kids file into the kitchen and sit down at the table. Colby gnaws at the Nutrigrain bar, while Jenna tears open a packet of Gogurt. Dad stands above them, watching Colby devour his food.

“If everything goes good today, somebody’s getting ice cream,” Dad says.

Mouths full, both look at their father, eyes wide. Colby fist pumps.

They finish breakfast and follow Collin back upstairs to brush their teeth. Mom hangs back for a moment, unzipping their backpacks, placing their lunch, snacks, pens and pencils in the bags.

She smiles, shaking her head. “I’m hoping for a quick goodbye when we drop them off,” Katie says. “If I linger on it too long, I’ll start crying. I know I will.”


When the McClendons pull up in their white Denali at Cooper Elementary, brother and sister are giggling in the backseat, sharing a joke.

“OK, you guys ready?” Dad says.

The children open the doors, greeted by a teacher who welcomes them with a smile.

“Bye, Mom. Bye Dad.”

Sister leads little brother through the big double doors. She’s been a student at Cooper Elementary going on four years now, and she’s volunteered to walk Colby to his kindergarten teacher’s class.

He steps, big-eyed, through the brightly lit hallways, the soles of his brand-new sneakers squeaking against the floor. They approach an open classroom door with a red banner above it that reads “Mrs. Baker.”

Colby stops, gives a brief nod to his sister and steps through the threshold.

Veteran Kindergarten Teacher Lisa Baker greets him with a smile as he enters the classroom. She gives him a white piece of paper with a coloring assignment on it and directs him toward “the red table,” where a glossy sticker with his name adorns a space on the table top’s wooden grain. He plops down in his chair and reaches for a box of crayons.

The first assignment is to color a paper hat however they like, cut it out with child safety scissors, tie a piece of yarn around it and adjust it so it fits. As they wrap up the activity, the morning announcements flicker to life from a projector above them. It’s Principal Donna Bishop’s “welcome back” to the students of her school. She gives a brief salutation and asks them to stand for a moment of silence and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Establishing these types of routines, Baker said, is essential on the first day of kindergarten.

The routine

“This will be the foundation for the rest of their years in school,” said Baker who has taught kindergarten and first grade going on 12 years. “We want them to get used to the work, the routines, the schedules. Some of them have never been in a school setting all day long before, so teaching those routines is essential in getting them used to that idea.”

Another important step for the first day of kindergarten: meeting new friends.

Sporting multi-color visors, the students of Mrs. Baker’s class sit down on the carpet in a circle. It’s time, she says, “for everybody to get to know everybody else.”

Each child tells the group of about two dozen students their name, how old they are and a fact about themselves. When it comes Colby’s turn, he looks up at the eager, young faces: “My name is Colby. I’m 4 years old. I just got back from the beach.”

The McClendons came back from a vacation in July at Hilton Head Island, one of many “field trips” for the family as they prepared for the first day of classes.

As she reflected on the summer and the events leading up to Colby’s first morning of kindergarten Monday, Katie said she was excited to hear what her son would have to say when he got home from school.

“I’ve kind of been watching the clock tick by all day waiting for 3 p.m.,” Katie said early afternoon Monday. “I’m excited for both of them. It’s a whole new experience for Colby though. This is the big leagues, so to speak, and I’m thinking we’re off to a great start.”


teelee 3 years, 1 month ago

Georgia should pass a law like several other states that designates the day after Labor Day as the first day of the new school year. This would save millions during August, one of the hottest months of the year. The school buses do not have air conditioning and cooling the schools in August must cost a fortune. Kids deserve a full summer break to go on vacations, family reunions, theme parks and summer camps. This worked well in the 20th Century when we went to the Moon, split the atom, cured polio, won two world wars and became the worlds super power. So besides teacher unions can you give me a reason why they should go back so soon? Year round school makes child care harder to arrange when these random off weeks pop up. The same people that come up with these policies enjoyed their Summers off.


bailey13 3 years, 1 month ago

Georgia gets out before Memorial Day. It isn't that Georgia schools go longer. Schools that start after Labor Day don't get out until mid to late June.


Mack711 3 years, 1 month ago

Grew up in the Georgia school system. We always started the Tuesday after Labor day and ended the first week in June. It seems that with the current calendar is not in the best interest of the system. Consider the cost of Air conditioning, we did not have air conditioning in our schools and we survived. Why can't they do the same today?


bailey13 3 years, 1 month ago

Not sure when you went to school. I was in Gwinnett schools during the 80s and 90s. We started in mid-August and got out after the first week of June (usually between the 7th and 11th). They can do the same today. I personally prefer a late May vacation to an overly hot August one- that's my opinion, but I believe it is part of the rationale. Neighborhood pools that were packed in June are empty by the end of July- it's too hot. As far as money- it's not that much more to AC the school in August. The amount of electricity required to run a school at anytime is enormous. You want to save costs? Go to a 4 day week and cut 20% off of transportation- which is far more costly. But then parents would freak about childcare. It seems it's only about the money or what's best for students until it becomes inconvenient.


gwinnettresident1 3 years, 1 month ago

Its cooler in mid June than on the 1st day of August. 110 to 118 inside a bus this month.


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