MOUNT PLEASANT -- In every life, there is only one first day of first grade.

This is what it looked like Wednesday morning at Laurel Hill Primary School, where the eternal quest for knowledge officially began for the Class of 2022.

For Betty McKenzie, an 18-year veteran, the 20 children who came through her door were not strangers. She taught them last year in kindergarten and gets to keep them under her wing for another year in a system called looping.

That comfort zone made the transition to higher learning easier for all involved.

"It's better because you already know them and they know you," she said as parents took pictures and watched their children find their seats. "This way we don't have to waste time going over the rules and what's expected of them."

Which, as we all know, is a lot.

Light bulbs

When you think of how much these 6-year-olds have to learn in order to succeed in this world, the mind boggles. Unless, of course, you're a teacher.

Teachers, especially first-grade teachers, instinctively know how important each morsel of information is and how it fits into the foundation in our ever-expanding bridge of knowledge.

For McKenzie, a graduate of Lander University and the College of Charleston, it's all about knowing each child's reading level, when to challenge them and when to let them learn at their own pace.

"Some are emergent readers and some are already advanced to third-grade level," she said as she prepared for their lessons. "The moment for teachers is when the light bulb goes off and reading is no longer work for them, it just comes naturally."

Sitting still

Before her was a room full of smiling, eager faces who seemed to understand they were on the first leg of a great voyage.

First grade is the launching pad where pencil boxes filled with crayons and scissors eventually turn into complex computer programs, amazing engineering feats and novels that take us to fantastic, fictional places.

But first you have to learn to sit still.

Only once did McKenzie have to use her super powers to enforce the rules of conduct; the infractions were the result of kinetic energy and genuine excitement.

In today's homogenized society, their parents are from everywhere, including India, Chile, Germany and a place called Park West.

With names like Damon, Charlie, Aasim, Suphia, Sophia, Ella, Catalina, Kylie, Logan, Lauren, Riley, Grace, Harry, Tyler, Seth and Vicente, these children are linked forever by this moment in time, their first day of school, the one that officially opens the door to the rest of their lives.

By day's end they were well schooled in what's expected in this brave new world. Just think what they'll learn in the next 179 days.

Reach Ken Burger at or 937-5598 or follow him on Twitter at