Daniel Jackson, a 5-year-old kindergartener at Running Brook Elementary, clutched his mother with one hand while gently swinging his red Corvette-shaped lunchbox with the other. Daniel's older brother Jordan, an enthusiastic fourth-grader, quickly walked ahead toward the entrance of the Columbia school.
The trio parted at the covered entrance of the building. Jordan stood in a line with familiar classmates. Daniel and his mother, Lisa Jackson, lagged behind.
"I'm really excited for him to interact with other kids," Jackson said as Daniel looked at the ground. "He's really shy."
Then the doors to the school opened, and students and parents started filing into the building.
"Bye, Danny!" Jordan yelled as he waved to his family. "Have a nice day!"
More than 48,500 students - an increase of more than 200 since last year - are expected to attend Howard County public schools this year. The new Veterans Elementary in Ellicott City has increased to 72 the number of schools in the system.
Sydney L. Cousin, superintendent of schools, spent the first day of the academic year making his annual tour of schools.
Cousin visited seven schools - Mount Hebron High, Centennial High, Burleigh Manor Middle, Centennial Lane Elementary, Phelps Luck Elementary, Gorman Crossing Elementary and Murray Hill Middle - on Monday. He was joined by County Executive Ken Ulman for more than half of the trip.
Cousin said he was impressed with the students, staff and schools, in particular at Mount Hebron, which has been a sore spot with a number of parents who were dissatisfied with maintenance at the school.
"I saw a staff and a facility hard at work, and a facility that was in very good shape," Cousin said of Mount Hebron.
While Cousin was assessing schools, Jordan Jackson was eagerly heading to his new fourth-grade classroom.
Upon entering Running Brook, Jordan immediately yanked off his baseball cap - a school rule - and briskly snaked through the halls and headed to his new classroom. On his way to his new digs, Jordan hugged one teacher, waved at another and chatted with a classmate.
"I am excited to go back to school so I can meet all my friends again," said Jordan, who was sharpening pencils in the room of his new teacher, Lisa Rounds.
Jordan said he is eager to learn more and to do more reading, which is his favorite subject.
"I want to get smarter so I can become a pediatrician," he said.
Meanwhile, Jordan's mother was saying her goodbyes to Daniel in his kindergarten class taught by Pam Foreman.
"He's the last," said Jackson, a mother of four, as she watched her youngest draw a picture of a school with a green crayon. "I'm happy for him to be in school with his brother. He's keeping the Jackson legacy alive."
Her husband, Jay Jackson, captured the moment with his tiny digital camera.
"I have a great sense of pride," Jay Jackson said of his four sons, the oldest of whom, Wendell, attends Pennsylvania State University. "I feel comfortable with him coming here. He's bringing up the rear. He's the last one in the house."
Parents weren't the only ones at Running Brook eager for the school year to start.
Troy Todd, the school's assistant principal, said he was excited about the second year of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program, which encourages adults to give students positive feedback. Some schools offer prizes and other incentives to reward good behavior.
"Everyone is coming with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm," Todd said.
Maria Moy, a reading specialist at the school, spent most of the morning directing new students to classrooms.
"It was neat," Moy said. "I had a train of a dozen kids following me. ... It was nice."
Moy said she couldn't wait to assist teachers with their reading lessons and to work individually with students.
"I'm looking forward to getting back into the swing of that," Moy said. "I want to make the magic happen."
Lisa Booth, the school's principal, said her top priority was welcoming her new students - especially the 50 former Bryant Woods students who have been redistricted to Running Brook - this year.
"I saw very few tears from parents or children," Booth said. "They [parents] were all out by 10:30 a.m. I think they are confident that their children will receive a good education.
"We've got off to a great start this year," Booth said. "We have wonderful students and a community that supports us."