"It's a great day to be at school, everybody's happy!" Darryl Robbins, the principal of Robert Moton Elementary School, sang as children filed off buses, down the covered walkway and through the front doors — bracing for 180 days of learning and leaving summer in the rearview.
"If you put forth a positive attitude, a good vibe," Robbins said, "our students walk in, they're going to get the same thing and give it back, hopefully tenfold."
A cluster of teachers awaited the children as they climbed out of the buses on Tuesday, Sept. 4, the first day of the school year for students.
"Stop being tall," Robbins told one youngster who obviously hit a growth spurt over the summer.
It's all part of an effort to make the students feel comfortable, Robbins explained.
Other teachers stood by as students poured in. "That's my bus!" they'd shout, as school buses approached the curb running to greet their students and slap on bus-number stickers.
"One thing to remember," said Heather Carden, a special needs teacher at Robert Moton, "is that over the summer some kids get to do things with their family … others aren't so fortunate."
"It's important to make them all feel special," added Carden, working her fifth first day at the elementary school in Westminster.
The first day is also about getting organized — after everybody's off the bus and in the correct classroom, that is.
And that's just what the classroom full of third-graders in Kelly Brewer's classroom were doing.
"If you have erasers, you're taking one for the pencil pouch," Brewer, the third grade team leader, instructed her students. "Next, pencils. I'd like you to keep two pencils. The rest let's donate," to the communal class supply.
Brewer barked out school-supply instructions for each item: markers, crayons, colored pencils and composition books.
"Wait, where are my markers?" a high-pitched voice pierced through the organizational buzz.
The third-graders asked "Ms. Brewer" how they should store items — in the box or out.
"Whatever you want," the experienced teacher responded, "they're yours."
Brewer clearly wanted to set a precedent on the first day. When the teacher talks, the students should listen, she told the classroom, as the buzz of voices and supplies rattling became overwhelming.
"Are you following instructions?" Brewer asked a student. "We have to get organized."
The first day is also a feeling-out period for students.
"We have, like, specials first," said Kateri Benedictis, a 10-year-old fifth grader. "And then afterwards we unpack everything."
Kateri and fellow fifth-grader Armando Sagastume, 10, said they were excited and nervous about the new challenges associated with fifth grade. They were happy and sad that summer concluded — sad because the fun in the sun was over, but happy because they moved up a year and were going to learn new things. Like math, Armando's favorite.
"We're going to do division of fractions," Kateri said.
"Oh, god," Armando replied. "How do you even do that?"
The first day blues are mostly subdued for experienced fifth-graders like those two. Been there. Done that. No big deal.
But for some of their younger students at Robert Morton the first day can be scary.
"Are you sure this is a good idea," Ruthe Spears said her son Gio, a 5-year-old starting kindergarten, asked her in the car en route to school.
"It's bittersweet," Spears said after dropping Gio off. "You want them to have a good year, but at the same time he's tuggin' on the heartstrings."
Earlier on, a young boy hid behind one of the blue pillars supporting the covered walkway. His mother convinced him to walk in with her.
But "there's nothing to be afraid of, the teachers are pretty nice," said 10-year-old Aubrey Jacobs, a fifth-grader.
"Just, like, pay attention so you understand the ways," Kateri said she would tell a younger student, nervous on their first day.
Asked what advice he'd give a nervous kindergartner, third-grader Andres Ramirez, 8, responded "Just believe in yourself and you won't be scared or nervous."