The lines of students snaking through the hall of the Affton preschool were squiggly.
It will take some practice, just like how to use the bathroom and wash hands before returning to play time.
Everything was new for the 200 students Tuesday morning for their first day at the Early Childhood Center in Affton.
“They were pretty excited,” Dan Baker said about his daughters. “They had been wanting this for like a year or so now.”
Baker peered into a classroom at 3-year-old Autumn playing with blocks. Her sister, Kamdyn, 4, was in the room across the hall.
“I’m all right, right now, but probably when I walk out the door it’ll be a different feeling — but so far, so good,” he said.
Autumn and Kamdyn wanted to wear their new backpacks — a unicorn for Kamdyn and “LOL” written on the back of Autumn’s — all over the place the past few days, their father said.
Some of Autumn’s new classmates were less stoic about their first day of school. Two girls bawled while teacher Casey Edmundson tried to pacify them with a book.
Paul Collier was having a difficult time leaving his crying son, Joseph, behind after the 4-year-old was excited for school the day before.
“Then this morning he got his stuff together, got his bag on, was ready to go out the door, was excited — was excited coming in,” Collier said. “As soon as he realized we were leaving, the excitement plummeted.”
His wife, Jennifer, insisted that going back to check on him would just make it harder.
Affton, in south St. Louis County, opened a pre-K center in 2012, six years after expanding its early childhood education offerings. It offered the service with the neighboring Lindbergh School District for three decades before that.
About 13% of Missouri children attend publicly funded preschool. Most families are charged tuition, including in Affton, where it costs $711 a month for full-day preschool. Public funding for early childhood education is low compared to other states, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.
Gov. Mike Parson voiced interest in expanding preschool opportunities late last year, but the initiative was left off the Republican’s legislative agenda.
Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education received a $6.5 million federal grant in the spring to study expanding preschool options.
At one of the classrooms in Affton, Jennifer Stanley and Erick French crouched in the door of their son Sage’s classroom. After several hugs, Sage, 3, reluctantly retired to his seat.
“You can tell he wants to be in there, but he’s like, ‘When are you coming back, what happens now?’” Stanley said.
Stanley and French were set to pick Sage up at 3:15. Then it’s just over 2,600 days of school left until high school graduation, in 2035.
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