POWHATAN – Social distancing isn’t keeping Powhatan County Public Schools from welcoming the incoming Class of 2033.
The school division began kindergarten registration on April 30, and administrators have been pleasantly surprised by the number of families that have registered their children in the new online format they set up, said Dr. Cheryl Thomas, director of elementary education.
The schools usually have a big Kindergarten Registration Day to welcome their new students in person, complete with photo opportunities and a kindergarten assessment. Since that wasn’t possible with the current school closures, the school division set up an online registration process for parents to so they could register from home, she said. Staff has been pleased with the response.
In 2019, 260 kindergartners were registered on the special kindergarten registration day between the three schools. As of May 13, 2020, Thomas said the schools had already registered 231 new students online.
“We were really pleased with our Powhatan families and how well they responded,” she said.
With the paperwork out of the way, the biggest challenge has been “trying to be personal and create relationships in an online setting,” Thomas said.
“How do you have families feel like they are becoming part of a family when you are not face-to-face,” she said.
To personalize the process, a video message from the principal was sent with the parent’s receipt of submission. Registrars began contacting families immediately to schedule a virtual appointment, Thomas said.
“We can’t hug them or get close to them so we try to continue with some of those things that make it feel really homey and personal,” she said.
Since they didn’t have the main day photo ops, each school has set up an outdoor drive-by photo op where parents can bring their enrolled future kindergartner for a photo while maintaining social distancing, Thomas said. The events will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Friday through June 12. The schools’ kindergarten registration themes are: Flat Rock Elementary, Hollywood Walk of Fame; Pocahontas Elementary, Pieces to the Puzzle, and Powhatan Elementary, At the Drive-in.
At the event, each registered child who has been registered will receive a free literacy kit that has been donated by the United Way and school readiness materials, Thomas added.
Registrar Cindy Pruitt said Kindergarten Registration Day is usually one of her favorite days of the year at Powhatan Elementary because she loves the “excitement of seeing the sweet faces of the new babies and comforting the mommas that are a little uneasy.”
She has missed not seeing the kindergartners in person this year and trying to make it as special as possible, but she said the process that started on April 30 has been exciting in a different way.
“I literally was at my computer before 7 a.m. waiting on that first ding to let me know someone had just registered online. This continued until past 7 p.m. I responded to each ding with an email detailing how the process would then go to finish the registration,” she said, adding that many parents told her the online process was smooth and orderly.
Flat Rock Elementary registrar Ebony Brown said her experiences so far have been great despite also being extremely overwhelming.
“Parents really seem to like the process and have expressed how easy it is for them. Some have opted to conduct the registration solely via email, while most enjoy the Zoom meeting process,” she said. “I have been able to meet quite a few of our upcoming kindergartners while doing so. Becoming familiar with the parents and students has by far been the best experience for me. Although the overall process is different, I still feel that I have been able to stay connected to the parents and address their concerns.”
Pocahontas Elementary registrar Mindy Muntean said the opening day of registration was a little bit hectic, as Pocahontas has the most registered students with 88 kindergartners as of May 14.
She has been doing video chats and phone calls with parents and occasionally has gotten to meet the student. Most parents wanted to just scan documents to her, and she was able to set up an office in her house, which made it much easier.
Normally on the registration day, incoming students go through a kindergarten assessment. Some students are recommended for the Summer K-booster Program to help them prepare a little more before the fall semester starts, Thomas said. Currently, the school division is waiting to see what happens with restrictions in the state by June 10. The division has come up with several scenarios based on the possible outcomes of what the governor regarding the restrictions.
For information about ongoing kindergarten registration, visit www.powhatan.k12.va.us.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.