Maggie Fox has been there. She knows how it feels to be afraid of the unknown. To feel the angst of separation. To have to share your crayons. Maggie Fox is a kindergarten veteran.

Now a confident 6-year-old who speaks with the wisdom that only experience can bring, Maggie offers this advice to the kindergartners who are just beginning their school careers: "I'd tell them, Don't be afraid. It's OK."Maggie, a first grader at Uintah Elementary in the Salt Lake City School District, confides that she was a little unnerved when she started kindergarten a year ago. "I was afraid maybe I'd get lost."

Clark Cannon is also a kindergarten vet. He says he was scared last year, too, although it wasn't his sense of direction that he feared would be the problem. "I was afraid I'd have to do hard work."

He wants kindergartners to know, though, that the work they'll do this year isn't so tough. It's much harder in first grade, says Clark, who is a student in Arlene Conley's class.

"I mean you have to do spelling."

An estimated 35,000 kindergartners skipped and dawdled and trudged off to school this year in Utah. Some, like those in the Granite District, have already been at school a week now. Others, like those in the Salt Lake City district, began yesterday.

"When I was in kindergarten . . . " begins Leah Jensen, sounding like a grandma recalling the days of her youth, "it took me a long time to think I would do good in school."

But Leah has discovered that she has not only done good (adverbs, after all, come later) but that school can even be entertaining. "It's just delightful to see the fun things they let you do," she explains.

Leah is a first-grader in Diana Shield's class at Wasatch Elementary School. Classmate Tommy Miller is a little more cautious in his assessment and advice: "I'd probably tell them they could probably learn something."

The students recommended that their younger colleagues learn to follow directions, be quiet and be polite as they learn the ropes. Sometimes, though, it doesn't hurt to stand your ground.

"One time I was coming to school," remembers Nick Baron about his kindergarten days, "and a guy said, `Move it, twerp.' I think he was 7." Nick says he called him a twerp back and that was the end of it.

Although most of the first graders said they were at least a little scared on their first day of school last year, Michael Horne, a student in Shannon Howell's class at Wasatch, doesn't know why anybody thinks it's a big deal.

"I knew it was just school."