By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
SPRINGVILLE, Va. —
As teachers and students returned to Virginia schools this week, Springville Elementary teacher Cindy Elliott helped 24 kindergartners and their parents adjust to their very first day of school ever.
Through her 33 years of teaching, Elliott said the first day of school is always a big event for her students.
“I love being a part of the first day of ‘big’ school, for that first experience,” Elliott said. “I love watching what great progress the students make through the years, how much they grow both physically and academically. Being a kindergarten teacher, I can determine how they feel about school for the rest of their educational career. I want to give them the best experience possible.”
While the first day of school can seem intimidating for students, Elliott said in her experience parents are the ones who often have the hardest time.
“Often, it is harder on mommy and daddy than it is on the kindergarten students themselves,” Elliott said. “I would say the first day is always harder on the parents than the children. For the most part, parents are anxious for their children. Sometimes I do have to comfort a parent and tell them that their child will be all right. If a child is crying, you just need to give them 10 to 15 minutes and they’ll be fine; they’ll have moved on to something else.”
Even before students and parents were admitted into the halls of Springville Elementary this week, Elliott was getting her classroom ready.
“We have to prepare our room and get our curriculum ready,” she said. “Before our first workday, I put in 15 to 20 hours in my room just setting things up for that first day of school. We then have three workdays to get things ready before the kids come. Every summer, we have to pack everything up so the building and rooms can be cleaned. We have to unpack everything at the beginning of August to get ready for the new school year.”
Elliott said kindergarten is unique because, unlike other grade levels, not all students come in with the same skill levels or abilities they learned in school the previous year.
“They come in on different levels,” she said. “Some of them have had preschool or early intervention while others have not. Some know how to read and others do not. There are a lot of levels. I work closely with parents to help the child become the best they can be. In Tazewell County, we have kinder camp that children can come to. Kids come into their room, do activities and have a tour of the school so they can get used to what things will be like on the first day before all of the students are here. It gets rid of those first-day jitters so the s.
“From the very beginning, I have to stress that there is only one teacher,” Elliott said. “They have to be patient just like I have to be patient with them. They have to learn they aren’t always going to be first in line or that they aren’t always going to be in charge. We have to learn to live in harmony together.”
According to Elliott, much of what students learn in kindergarten is essential for the rest of their lives.
“I believe that everything you need to know you learn in kindergarten,” she said. “In kindergarten, you get to teach the whole child. They are learning about school and how to interact with other children. While academic learning is important, it is equally important for them to learn things like building friendships, learning to share, and working with others.”
Elliott said she enjoys seeing how her students have grown since their kindergarten days.
“This year, I even have the child of a former student of mine in my classroom,” Elliott said. “Being able to teach that second generation is so much fun. I’m always glad to see those little kindergartners I taught all grown up with a child of their own. I love when my former students come back to say hello. It’s a great pleasure for a teacher to see their students grown up. I have even taught some of the teachers that I now work with. It means a lot to me when a former student becomes a teacher. I really hope that I had a positive impact on their decision to teach.”
Elliott said her own school experience inspired her to become a teacher.
“Kindergarten was not established yet in Virginia when I was in school, so I started in first grade,” she said. “I had many wonderful teachers, especially my third grade teacher. She taught me and all three of my sisters. She was really special. I graduated from Graham High School and received my degree from Bluefield College. I student taught at Dudley Primary during college.”
Elliott has been teaching kindergarten for most of her career.
“My first couple of years I was a second-grade teacher at Abbs Valley Elementary then when the first kindergarten spot opened up, I took it,” she said. “I have been teaching kindergarten at Springville ever sense. I love working at both schools because small schools are full of love.”
Over the years, Elliott said there have been changes to how and what kindergartners are taught.
“When I first started teaching kindergarten it was social as well as academic,” she said. “We would have an entire week devoted to learning one letter of the alphabet, as opposed to now. We still focus on the alphabet, numbers and counting but as a much faster pace than before. Now, students must be reading by the end of kindergarten. We spend a lot of time on reading skills and keep progressing to learning how to read.”
Elliott said her job requires her to constantly be on her toes.
“I know what I do makes a difference in a child’s life,” Elliott said. “They are here counting on me to guide, lead and teach them. In all grades, but especially in kindergarten, you take on the role of mother, teacher, nurse and wear many other hats when dealing with your students. Things change minute by minute when you are working with 5-year-olds. When you show them that you care and love them, though, they want to give their best back to you in return.”
According to Elliott, making lessons exciting helps students learn.
“I enjoy all the curriculum because it is always new, fresh and exciting for them,” she said. “I want to impart my love of education upon them. I try to make a lot of units fun and memorable. For colors, we will wear the color of the day and do a coloring book. Anytime you can integrate a song or a poem to catch their attention it helps as well. I want to build a strong reading and math foundation for these students because it is so important throughout their education.”
Elliott said one of the best parts of her job is seeing students finally understand a concept they have found difficult.
“If a student is struggling in a skill or has something they haven’t been exposed to, it is really awesome when you see that concept click for that child,” she said. “I get to see a lot of light bulbs go off. That is the really neat thing about kindergarten. It’s hard to say if their smile is bigger or mine when that happens. We also do a lot of group activities, group learning, and oral activities involving the whole class. Kids are very supportive of each other. We all share in each others’ success and joys.”
When the last bell rings on the first day of school, Elliott said her students are often tired from their first day.
“Pickup the first couple of days is always interesting,” Elliott said. “We have to make sure every kid is on the right bus and gets home safely. Sometimes, we will see kids who are car riders start to take a nap as soon as they get into their car seat that first day. Their first day of kindergarten has just tuckered them out. The parents are always excited to see the child and want to see they had a good day.”
With the first day behind her, Elliott said she is looking forward to what the new school year has in store.
“We have a wonderful community here with great students and parents,” Elliott said. “I’m very excited for the new school year. I always look forward to working with the students at Springville. I expect great things in my classroom this year.”
— Contact Kate Coil at