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Kindergartners enjoy trial run on bus

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Five-year-old Liam McCormick gripped his Curious George doll and looked wistfully out the window of the school bus.

Fortunately for Liam, who enters kindergarten next week at Hugh Mercer Elementary in Fredericksburg, his mom was in the next seat.

But on Tuesday, he’ll be on his own.

To get kindergartners acclimated to riding the bus, the city school system invited the youngsters and their parents for a ride Thursday before orientation.

The exercise was just as much to get the parents comfortable with the idea as it was for the kids.

Hugh Mercer will have 15 classes of kindergartners this year, which at Principal Marjorie Tankersley’s last count, meant 282 will show up on Tuesday. In addition to the bus rides, this is the first year that the school offered kindergarten students their own orientation, Tankersley said.

Angela McCormick, Liam’s mom, said she thought the idea of riding the bus to orientation was “fantastic.”

“This is the thing that makes me the most nervous about kindergarten,” she said. “Now I don’t have to worry about him getting off at the wrong stop.”

Gregg and Margaret Jennings hopped on the bus with their son, Kasaan, at the stop near Washington and Virginia avenues.

But it was a close call—Margaret had to take Kasaan to a doctor’s appointment Thursday, and they returned home just as the bus pulled up.

Kasaan and his buddy Luke Rossi, also starting kindergarten, chose seats near the back of the bus.

But throughout the ride, they kept changing seats until their parents told them they needed to choose one to stay in.

The Jennings were excited about the idea of Kasaan taking the bus. Gregg said it was an experience he never had, and Margaret said it was a memorable one for her.

But mostly, they liked Thursday’s event because it would get Kasaan ready for his first day going it alone.

“I think it’s great anytime you can get them comfortable for what they will do on their own,” Margaret said.

Kasaan said he’d never ridden a bus before.

“The bus is fun,” he said.

Jennie Rensink and her son, also named Liam, rode the bus Thursday afternoon as well.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for parents to prepare for the new school year,” Rensink said.

Liam is already scoping out his seat for the year. He said he wants to sit in the back so he gets “to see everything.”

This time, he rode in the front, where he said he liked “watching the bus driver bounce in the chair.”

Their chauffeur for Thursday was June Calafactor, who has been driving Fredericksburg school buses for 25 years.

This year, she’ll ferry James Monroe High School students, but she’s driven for the elementary school children in the past.

She advises kids—and parents—that there’s nothing to be scared of and that the bus driver will take care of them.

When the buses pulled up to Hugh Mercer Elementary, smiling, enthusiastic teachers wearing bright yellow matching shirts that said “Welcome to kindergarten” greeted them.

Upon entering the school, they were met with balloons, cheers and applause.

Superintendent David Melton, one of the greeters, said he remembers when he was the parent of a kindergartner and how nervous he was. The trial bus ride was designed to calm those nerves, he said.

“We thought it would be a good idea to give them that experience,” he said.

Teacher A.J. McClung said the effort will give the kindergartners a little more confidence on that first day of school.

“I don’t think there’s a better way to get them used to the buses,” he said.

Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413