Starting kindergarten is a monumental life step for children — and parents.

Jackson Elementary School welcomed families Thursday night to help ease the transition for moms, dads and kids at a barbecue to meet others also heading into elementary school.

The cafeteria was packed as incoming students waved to their classmates and excitedly ran around.

It’s a year of change in the Teton County School District. The in-town schools were reconfigured this summer, meaning both Jackson and Colter elementary schools will see kindergartners through fifth-graders. For the first time in a long time the youngest students will be at both schools.

Tracy Poduska, the new principal at Jackson Elementary School, welcomed families with a short program that was also translated in Spanish. She introduced Bo Miller, the principal of Colter Elementary School, and Scott Eastman, the previous principal at Jackson and the incoming principal at Munger Mountain Elementary School, set to open in fall 2018.

An exercise hosted by the Teton Literacy Center, which also gave away books to every student at the dinner, broke the ice. Kids sang along with a popular children’s book character, Pete the Cat, as he went about a typical school day. The surprisingly catchy tune oriented students to their new academic life, including riding the school bus and dining in the cafeteria.

Emotions of incoming kindergartners ranged from excited to a little worried about starting school. Five-year-old Lucila Sharp fell on the latter end of the spectrum, admitting she’s “nervous.”

Her parents said they are encouraging her with incentives. After she learned how to spell her name confidently, for example, she got to get her ears pierced, said her mother, Shelby Scharp.

“She’s pretty proud,” dad Trey Scharp said.

Miller said he understands the nerves. He has three children, ages 19, 17, and 15, and sent the oldest one off to college last fall. Turning your kids over to teachers, Miller said, is an act of faith and trust.

“It’s one of the key moments in life as a parent and as a child,” Miller said of starting kindergarten. “It heralds in a new stage. It’s bittersweet, but it’s so joyful.”

Calla Grimes said she and her 5-year-old son, Theo, are looking forward to the next step.

“It definitely does feel like a big milestone,” Grimes said. “But he’s excited to learn and excited to read.”

Theo’s cousin went to Jackson Elementary School last year, Grimes said. She expects having a friendly face among others in the halls will help his adjustment tremendously.

Jackson Hole High School special education teacher Erin Fletcher attended the barbecue with her 6-year-old son, Liam, who will be starting at Colter this year.

As a teacher and a parent she offered the following words of wisdom: “Bedtime. And making sure they get enough sleep.”

Jackson Elementary School physical education teacher Pete Hoffman was also at the meet and greet. He was with his daughter, Hollis. Her anxiety about school has been curbed a bit because she has already been to her dad’s workplace.

“She’s more than ready,” Hoffman said.

Miller said he’s excited about the reconfiguration, which will allow staff to get to know students and families for six years.

“We’ve always had community schools, but this model is better,” Miller said.

“It’s better for community and family engagement,” he said. “I’ll get to know everyone more and form relationships.”

Contact Kylie Mohr at 732-7079, schools@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGschools.

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