THE LETTER THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING

August 30, 2008 12:00 am

By Scott Graves

Pilot Editor

For several weeks, Alia has been dreading the first day of kindergarten. She wanted nothing to do with shopping for school supplies or clothes, and talking about school was out of the question.

Then, the letter came. It changed everything.

After reading the letter, Alia ran through the house and the backyard yelling, "Mommy! Mommy! I got a letter from Mrs. June! Mrs. June sent me a letter!"

Jacque and Alia sat down and read the letter from her kindergarten teacher.

"Dear Alia,

Welcome to kindergarten!

Mrs. Oliphant and I are excited to have you in our class this year.

We are planning to have a really wonderful year with lots of reading, fun with numbers and making things. We will sing silly songs, play games, draw and even learn sign language.

You will know you found Room 42 when you see the elephant beside the door.

We can't wait to see you at Open House and we look forward to an "ele-phantastic" year!

Your Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. June."

Alia was blown away. The transformation was instantaneous.

"I can't wait to go to school!" she told Mom.

So, on Thursday, off they went to buy school supplies, using a list that Mrs. June included with her letter. There was also a page explaining the open house on the first day of school.

Instead of going cold turkey on Tuesday, the students and parents are invited to visit the classroom, meet Mrs. June and explore what will be their home away from home. The students can stay as long as they like. (On Wednesday, regular full-day kindergarten begins).

The open house and the letter from Mrs. June are so much different than what happened when my wife and I entered kindergarten. According to my mom, she dropped me off for my first day of kindergarten and left (parents weren't allowed to stay).

My mom liked the idea of having an open house the first day, and that Mrs. June sent Alia a letter. My wife and I felt similarly.

We had been looking to the first day of school with some concern about Alia's reluctance. Talking with Alia about school seemed to amplify her anxiety, so we refrained from talking about it much of the summer.

But, in the last few weeks, with the first day of school right around the corner, we had no choice but to start preparing for the inevitable. It started with a change in our sleep schedule, which left everyone bleary-eyed and grumpy. (It's since gotten much better.)

With school just one week away, kindergarten was still on Alia's blacklist. It was the fear of the unknown. As with most new experiences, we knew, she'd love school once she tried it.

Then, the letter came. It changed everything. The dark cloud over the Graves household was blown away by a little girl's joyous cry of "Mommy! Mommy! I got a letter from Mrs. June!"

Mrs. June sent the letter to all her incoming students, she said. The other kindergarten teachers wrote similar letters and all the teachers have open houses on the first day.

"It saves a lot of tears for everybody, including the parents," said June, who has been teaching for 20-plus years. "It's a big step for everyone."

It certainly is.

Thank you Mrs. June, for helping all of us take that big step.