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TWIN FALLS — Just before noon, kindergartners lined up outside with their new backpacks, outfits and neatly-styled hair.

They waited for their first-ever school bell to ring Thursday at Sawtooth Elementary School in Twin Falls.

“Moms and dads, this is kind of the routine,” teacher Tammy Petersen told a crowd of afternoon kindergarten parents, who gathered in a grassy area taking photos and videos of their children.

When the bell rang, Petersen told the kindergartners: “This is what we’re going to do. We’re going to wave to our moms and dads and say, ‘See you.’”

The children waved goodbye and followed their teacher in two rows — boys and girls — through a side door into their new classroom.

Thursday marked the first day of school for a few Magic Valley school districts, including Twin Falls and Buhl. Other start dates are staggered between now and Sept. 6.

At Sawtooth Elementary, one mother held up a colorful posterboard with a message wishing her child a good first day of kindergarten.

After being approached by a Times-News reporter, she said she was feeling too emotional to talk and was fighting back tears.

Clark and Laura Pierson were heading home after dropping off their first-born child, 5-year-old Henry, at kindergarten.

Laura said she was actually feeling excited to have a few hours in the afternoon while he’s in school. The family lives close to Sawtooth Elementary and walked to school.

Laura said her son went to preschool, so she hopes he does well in kindergarten. Two of his neighborhood friends are also in his class.

Her goal for his first day? “I hope he just has fun and likes his teacher,” she said. “I don’t want him to be scared.”

Nearby, three mothers chatted outside the classroom, with a few of their younger children in tow.

For each of the seasoned parents, it was their third child to start school — technically, the third and fourth for Kathryn Jenkins because she has twins in Petersen’s class, 5-year-olds Graham and Emmett.

Heather Elison’s feelings about the first day of school: “Do I dare say, “hallelujah’?” She laughed. Her children are starting fifth and second grades, and kindergarten.

But the school start date, Aug. 17, came too quickly, she said. “I’m sad that it’s early this year.”

Jenkins said she wished school started on a Monday instead of a Thursday. There’s only two days to get back into a routine, she said, and then it’s the weekend.

As for the first day of kindergarten, “I think I’m just trying to hold all of my emotions in and say, ‘This is great,’” she said.

“I think I was more nervous than the kids are,” Loni Platt said. Her son, 5-year-old Ford, is in kindergarten.

Inside Petersen’s classroom, children sat at four octagonal tables arranging small plastic bears and dinosaurs — into groups.

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As she knelt down at one table, Petersen asked the students: “Do we still have real dinosaurs alive on the Earth?”

“No,” one boy responded. “They’re extinct.”

After a few minutes, Petersen walked over to her desk. “Boys and girls, I want you to listen to a special sound,” she said, and rang a bell. “Only Mrs. Petersen gets to ring that bell.”

She taught her students hand motions to go along with something they’ll say whenever they hear the bell: Stop. Look. Listen.

“I can already tell you are going to be a smart group of kids,” she said as her students mimicked her hand motions. She added: “I like the way you have your eyes on me and I see big, happy smiles.”

School principal Mickey Combs came into the classroom and introduced herself. “Welcome to Sawtooth Elementary,” she said. “That’s the name of our school.”

“I just got here,” one boy told her. “I know,” Combs responded. She taught them how to wave when they see her in the hallway.

Sunny Allen — the only parent in the classroom — got up to leave, but daughter Claire clung to her leg and started to cry.

Combs comforted the kindergartner and led her to the classroom floor, where the other children were gathered. Within a couple of minutes, Claire had stopped crying and began watching her classmates around her.


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