WESLEY CHAPEL — Brandon Maldonado sighed as he watched his daughter Isabella march out of the Seven Oaks Elementary School media center.
"This is my second," Maldonado, a teacher himself, said wistfully Monday as his youngest headed off to begin a week of kindergarten camp. "It still gets to me."
Other parents, too.
On one hand, they wanted to have their kids get acclimated with the place where they'll spend so many waking hours over the next six years. Yet on the other, they felt the angst of letting go.
"I don't want to," said Christine Gulisano, who is sending her first child, Sophia, off to school. "Kindergarten is so advanced now. A little 5-year-old is not ready for it."
Maybe. Maybe not. (Two cried for the first several minutes.) But don't try to tell the little guys they're not up to the task.
Isabella Maldonado admitted to being "a little" nervous, but mostly, she said, she couldn't wait to get started. "I'm really excited. I really want to be part of this school, and I really want to have fun."
Max Wooster shared her enthusiasm.
"I'm excited, because I've never been in kindergarten, and this is my new school, and I like camping," Max said as he practiced writing his name.
The children looked forward to eating in the cafeteria, playing on the playground, and even learning a thing or two.
"The best part, in my brain, for kindergarten is learning," said Jaiden Meyerschoff. "I want to learn how to read. I'm close to reading, but I'm not really close. I'm just close."
Teacher Michelle Bergmann, who led one of two kindergarten camp classes, raved about the program, which Seven Oaks began four years ago.
"It gets teachers into the routine as much as the children," Bergmann said. "It alleviates some of their anxieties, as well as some of the parents' anxieties."
The concept, which was established in Pasco at Sand Pine Elementary five years ago, has been embraced by other elementary schools each year since. Others participating this year include Oakstead and Gulfside elementary schools. The weekly cost is $80.
One of the main goals is to get the children accustomed to following school rules while also getting them primed for lots of reading and writing.
After a brief campus tour, the kids settled in for carpet time to hear teacher Marcie McAmmond read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, a children's picture book that focuses on the alphabet.
After hearing the story, which many already knew, the children got their first ever kindergarten assignment.
"We're going to do something very fun," teacher Ginny Lanpher told the class. "But you need to listen very carefully."
They were to draw a picture of a coconut tree, brown and green like the one in the book, and then glue some letters to the picture. To finish up, they had to write their name somewhere on the paper.
Before starting, they had to find their name tags on the desks so they would know where to do their work.
Courtney Trautmann raced to hers right away.
"This is mine," she said proudly, grabbing some crayons to make her drawing.
"I saw the C and the T because my name is Courtney Trautmann. That's how it is."
Many of the children had attended preschool, so they were more or less prepared for what the school day will entail.
Voluntary prekindergarten "was really good," said Amy Strawser, whose daughter Mia attended the kindergarten camp. "I'm glad the state funded that. They're definitely ready."
But that didn't stop Strawser, like many others, from remaining just a bit apprehensive.
"This is still a big change," she said. "Preschool is pre school."
Principal B.J. Smith tried to reassure the parents that everything would be just fine. She said the children will gain independence, learn and be safe while attending school.
"After the first week of school, your kids will toddle off to their classrooms all by themselves, and they will be okay," Smith said.
The first day of classes in Pasco County is Aug. 24.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.