All-day kindergarten kicks off |

All-day kindergarten kicks off

Young Hayden students begin brand-new school year

Kindergartners' gym shoes fill a cabinet in Melany Neton's classroom.
Matt Stensland

— The imaginations of Burke Henderson and Matthew Irvine ran wild as they played with colored plastic chains Tuesday at Hayden Valley Elementary School.

“Look, it’s a lasso,” Matthew said.

“Look, it’s a snake,” Burke replied.

The first day of kindergarten can be difficult for many children; it’s often their first time in a structured setting without their parents. But while Matthew reworked his chain lasso into a dog collar, Burke reassured a visitor that her first day of “real school” was going well.

“I don’t even miss my mommy yet,” Burke said, her blonde pigtails jutting out from just above her ears.

There wasn’t much time for Hayden’s youngest students to think about life before kindergarten. Teachers Christine Epp and Melany Neton were busy instructing their newest pupils how to sit – it’s “crisscross applesauce” in Neton’s class – or how to stack lunch trays after eating – it’s “like a puzzle” in Epp’s class.

The Hayden Valley Elementary School cafeteria was the hub of activity at lunchtime Tuesday, the first day of school for students in the Hayden School District.

The lunch lines stalled as Hayden’s first-graders learned the lunchtime routine – as did the school’s 29 kindergartners, who make up the district’s inaugural all-day kindergarten class.

Elementary building supervisor Rhonda Sweetser said 32 students are enrolled in kindergarten; only three of them didn’t enroll in the all-day program.

“We were hoping for at least 12 to 15 in each class,” Sweetser said. “We are maxed out, which is great. The response has been positive.”

In previous years, Hayden would have dismissed its kindergartners shortly after 11 a.m. On Tuesday, those enrolled in all-day kindergarten stayed from 8:10 a.m. until 3:35 p.m.

Some kindergartners brought sack lunches. Others ate school lunch, which consisted of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a salad, fruit and a small cup of ice cream.

Spencer Mader finished his lunch in time to kick the ball around outside, proudly showing off his new white sneakers.

“It’s all new,” Spencer said, pointing to his cargo pants and white collared shirt.

A bell, signaling the end of recess, interrupted the conversation about his first-day outfit. Then, Epp and Neton began the task of teaching children what it means to get in a line and how important it is to stay in line.

The pair of veteran teachers are embarking on all-day kindergarten for the first time, which means extended instruction time – and several additional hours of keeping the attention of 5-year-olds.

Neton’s post-lunch work stations encouraged imagination, sharing and peer interaction.

Molly Neton, Melany Neton’s daughter, and Paige Barnes were building a cage out of wood blocks when a visitor asked them what was going to go in it.

“Zebras,” Molly said.

“And lions,” Paige added.

“Oh,” Paige said, quickly catching herself, “we can’t put the zebras in there. The lions will eat the zebras.”

With that, Melany Neton rang the bell, signaling clean-up time. The girls started to sing a clean-up song before they prepared for a mid-afternoon rest.

The reality of a seven-hour school day was making eyes heavy, giving Deckler, the aide in Melany Neton’s room, a chance to sneak away.

“It’s lunch time,” Deckler said.

– To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail

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