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GELNHAUSEN, Germany — It’s a month before school begins, and 5-year-old Ta’heim Kennedy is acting as if the opening bell is only a day away.

“He’s already got his bag packed,” his mom says. “He’s ready.”

Audra Kennedy isn’t kidding.

To prove the point, Ta’heim turns his “Incredible Hulk” backpack on its side and starts pulling out tablets of paper, crayons and other items. In no time, the living room couch in Gelnhausen, Germany, is awash in school supplies.

He’s especially proud of his “Spider-Man” lunchbox, which he holds up — probably for the umpteenth time — like a trophy.

“I’m going to college,” Ta’heim says later when asked about the future.

Not so fast, Mr. Kindergartner.

There’s still 13 years of homework, field trips, tests and book reports ahead of you, and that’s just the core of the apple.

The first day of the new school year — Sept. 7 for most schools — is drawing near for the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe. For the estimated 4,900 kids of Ta’heim’s age entering the system, it’ll also represent a watershed moment: the first day of school.

Furthermore, it’s a big deal for many mommies and daddies, especially those going through it for the first time.

“It’s usually the parents that we have to lead away” from the school on the first day, said Candace Ransing, deputy director of DODDS-Europe.

“For the kids,” Ransing added, “it’s something that is exciting and they look forward to it.”

Ransing, a former teacher and principal, has some pointers for parents:

• Visit your child’s school before the first day of classes.• If possible, check out their classroom, and even the playground, which should help ease any school jitters.• For kids walking to school, scout out together the route on foot.• If your child is taking the school bus, drive the route a few times and go over the school rules for bus etiquette. Visit the bus stop, too.

Audra Kennedy began preparing for the big day soon after the 2003-04 school year ended. By the time her husband, Staff Sgt. Kevin Kennedy, returned from Iraq on July 20, everything was pretty much done. Part of the credit, she said, goes to her mom and kid sister in Greenville, N.C., who went on a spending spree for little Ta’heim.

What didn’t come in the mail, Audra Kennedy picked up at the local post exchange. She said Ta’heim boasted to store employees about their purpose.

“He would tell them he’s going to be a kindergartner and that we were buying school supplies for him,” Audra Kennedy said.

Kevin Kennedy is just happy he’s back in time for the start of school.

“He was always interested in school,” said Kennedy, explaining that his son is really excited about being with kids his own age.

But as “excited” as everybody is, Kennedy added, “you sometimes get tears on that first day.”

Ransing, who has spent 35 years in education, can attest to that.

One of her favorite “first-day” stories unfolded about 15 years ago when she was a principal in Giessen.

When it came time for the kindergartners to leave the front of the school and go inside, one mother couldn’t let go. Eventually, she did, sort of.

As her little girl stepped into homeroom, mom was waiting.

“This mom literally had her nose pressed against the glass,” Ransing said, “and she stayed that way.”

That is, until her daughter took matters into her own little hands. The girl walked up to the window, opened it and said to her mom: “You can go home now. I’m OK.”

Ransing advises young parents, such as Kevin and Audra Kennedy, to treasure their child’s journey.

“It is the beginning,” Ransing said of the first day of school, “but not so long after that they are dating and wanting to use the car.”


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