Lugging boxes of donated classroom supplies and wearing backpacks with dinosaur scales, students and their families tromped up Roland Avenue and back to Roland Park Elementary/Middle School for the start of the school year Monday.
Karimah Williams, president of the elementary school's PTA, called it "a huge day," especially for her daughter, Erika, who started fifth grade, "the latter end of elementary," her mother said. She said many fifth-graders "don't want us to walk them in. They're like, 'See ya later.' As a mom, I have mixed emotions. We had a really great summer. My kids were enjoying it down to the last drop."
For parents, school wasn't completely out of sight and mind during the summer. Parents organized a summer work day, in which they did painting and other projects, said Trish Garcia Pilla, the school's overall PTA president.
But with summer's end, it was time to reunite with classmates and teachers, which meant a lot of long embraces.
"I'm happy," said Nia Warren, hugging fellow fifth-grader Olivia Abell.
"I just miss my friends," said their classmate, Anna Doherty.
It was even a time for hugging the parents of classmates, which is why fourth-grader Elijah Wright ran up to his friend Benjamin Klingler's mother, Jennifer, and threw his arms around her. Both families have been friends since the boys were in kindergarten.
"I'm happy that school is back," said Jennifer Klingler, of Homeland.
Elijah wasn't through hugging. He ran up to fifth-grade math and science teacher Stephanie Bass and gave her a hug, too.
Little actual work would be done Monday, as students got acclimated, claimed their lockers and familiarized themselves with general school guidelines.
"They're all so happy," Bass said. "And then they get the homework assignment and they're not so happy."
For many children in north Baltimore, going back to school was already old hat.
Roland Park Elementary/Middle held an orientation event for kindergartners and elementary school students Aug. 22, while teachers participated in a professional development seminar earlier in the day. D'Ambrosio, free of the interim principal tag he had last year, talked animatedly about everything from a new roof being put on this year to his five-year strategic plan for the school. The plan includes reducing class sizes at the school of 1,350 students and making it a blue-ribbon school as it was under Mariale Hardiman, who was principal from 1994 to 2006.
"My long-term goal is to make Roland Park a model for other schools," he said.
The 29th Street Community Center, next door to Barclay Elementary/Middle School in Charles Village, held a back-to-school cookout the same day, combined with a sign-up for fall programs at the recreation center. Even Ma'Shea Randolph, 15, who graduated from eighth grade at Barclay last year and is now a high school freshman, came back for the party.
"I'm going to miss my teachers — some of them," she said.
Odette Ramos came, too, and she doesn't have a child in school yet. Ramos, a former Baltimore City Council candidate, brought her 18-month-old daughter, Teresa Spurrier, to the rec center, where she leads two playgroups. She acknowledged it might seem early to be thinking about school, but said, "A lot of us with (very young) kids are starting to think about it."
The Mount Washington School, a blue-ribbon, kindergarten-through-eighth-grade public school that has applied for an International Baccalaureate program, held a Sneak a Peek at Your Seat night that drew several hundred families Aug. 23. This is the school's first year with an eighth-grade class.
"I looked at my staff and I realized, we really are a K-8 school," Principal Sue Torr said.
The next day, the Roosevelt Park Recreation Council held a Back-to-School Fair and Flea Market in the Hampden park.
Mount Washington School eighth-grader Khari Jones was full of energy and ambition — and the box he was toting into school Friday afternoon was full of classroom and cleaning supplies that his family was donating to the school.
"Last year was a good year," he said after embracing Torr. "But I can always do better."
Sixth-grader Aya Indresano ran eagerly into the upper school building on Sulgrave Avenue, where families could check out their classrooms and buy flash drives, planners and a paperback Spanish-English dictionary, as well as sign up for a free, first-week Terrapin Adventures field trip in Savage, paid for out of the school's budget.
"She's been looking forward (to school) for weeks," said Aya's father, Joe. "I don't ever remember wanting to go to school — and both my parents were teachers."
On Monday at Roland Park Elementary/Middle, school was for real, and students were ready.
"Bye, Mom," fifth-grader Violet Pilla told her mother matter-of-factly. "Love you."