Hello, "Gorgeous George" -- George Washington Elementary School.
There, as across the city yesterday, the rituals of a new academic year began about 8 a.m. on school walkways, steps and asphalt yards.
All across Baltimore, at neighborhood schools with nicknames and slogans meant to uplift spirits, the scramble to meet new teachers and renew friendships began.
Sooner or later, 113,000 students are expected to arrive at 183 schools and alternative centers. The first day was full of dichotomies: anxiety and wonder, confusion and regimen, no-shows and early-birds.
For those who arrived before the doors opened, George Washington Elementary, in a rowhouse neighborhood behind the B & O Railroad Museum, could have been Anywhere, U.S.A., on the first school day of 1995-1996.
The crossing guard in front of the school waved a white-gloved hand to the children, who looked a little taller this year. The teeniest tots attached themselves to mothers and fathers and wouldn't let go: the youngest at this school of 440 children are 3-year-olds enrolled in a preschool program. The big kids rolled their eyes at a few tearful pre-kindergartners.
Candice Williams arrived before 8, flanked by four children who prompted double takes: her 7-year-old sons, dressed alike in red-striped shirts and green shorts, and a neighbor's twins, Ashley and Amber Cooper.
"Two of everything," she said, sighing. "They all play together."
Her son Brent, comparing the contents of his purple-edged backpack with those in brother Walik's green-edged bag, noted, "We have the same books and the same pencil box." Brent tickled Ashley, or maybe it was Amber -- the 7-year-olds were identical in pink plaid dresses.
"My shirt says, 'Get a good education,' and my brother's shirt has a teddy bear," Brent explained, pulling from his backpack his cover-up for painting projects.
Even Ms. Williams wasn't sure which was which in the schoolyard frenzy of children and grandparents. Everybody fidgeted, wait ing for the big moment when teachers would open the schoolhouse door.
They arrived at 8:20 a.m., wearing matching T-shirts and holding class lists overhead. The teachers herded the swarm of children into orderly lines by grade, then the promenade into the building began. Time for parting looks, a blown kiss, a photo.
"He's getting ready to make me cry," Kim Pope said as her nephew Charles Berkley, 5, ducked his head and let his tears spill onto his crisp white shirt. He made it as far as a school hallway. She stepped back to let his father, Charles, pull the boy toward his classroom.
"This is kind of hard on me -- he still wants to be a baby," said the father, who had taken the morning off from his job.
Arnita J. Shorter, 84, trailed a parade of children that snaked through the school's cheery pink-and-blue halls. From a classroom doorway, she stole a glance at her great-grandchild, Justine Jones, 5, during the flag salute.
"This takes me back a lot of years," Mrs. Shorter said. "It means a lot to me to be here, because today the children are so eager, so anxious and ready to get started. I find it inspiring."