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First day of school marks new beginnings throughout TUSD
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Julien third grader David Sousa gives principal Jenny Henderson flowers on the first day of school. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal

Jitters on the first day of school are normal for anyone, but Julien Elementary School’s new principal Jenny Henderson was calm, cool and collected on Monday morning as Turlock Unified School District students — her Mustangs included — made their way to their desks for the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

“I’m most excited to set the kids up for success,” Henderson said, who will oversee around 850 students at Julien this school year after serving as its assistant principal the past two. “It’s been a great transition — I’m familiar with the campus, the students, their families. It’s nice to know them all and be able to greet them each by name.”

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Police Chief Nino Amirfar greets Crowell Elementary School students on the first day of class.

Just over 14,000 students went back to school throughout Turlock this week: freshmen just beginning their high school journey, seniors celebrating the end of their own and kindergarteners getting used to the idea of saying goodbye to their family for the day.

Turlock parents Mike and Abby Hawkinson were dropping their son Grant off for his first day of kindergarten at Julien, but thanks to preschool, the trio was well-prepared and no tears were to be seen.

“It’s going to be 10 times better than preschool,” Grant said.

While Grant was enthusiastic, Mike said that there are always worries in a parent’s mind as their child starts school again.

“It’s a learning experience but at the same time you’re nervous for them just because it’s all new,” Mike said. “We’ll leave for our day of work and the whole time just be wondering, ‘How’s it going? How’s he doing? Is he okay? Does he have everything he needs?’”

“Is he behaving?” Abby added with a laugh.

Julien second grader Maeva Nichols spent the weeks leading up to the start of school preparing her younger sister Marlena for her first day of kindergarten, she said.

“I told her she might meet new friends,” Maeva said.

Maeva and Marlena’s mom, Amanda Nichols, said that dropping her daughters off for school has become easier as the years go by.

“I was crying the first time I had to drop off my oldest, but with Marlena I’m much better prepared,” Amanda said. “I hope they excel in everything.”

As Marlena begins her elementary school career at Julien, sixth graders Javier Maldonado, Isaiah Pedioza and Nelson Ceballos reflected on some of their favorite memories so far, and even some things they still have to look forward to.

“I’m looking forward to sixth grade camp and all of the activities in my new class,” Maldonado said.

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Cunningham Elementary School Principal Tami Truax rides her tractor to school on the first day of class. The school recently adopted an agricultural focus.

The three are also sad to see their elementary experience end. Though they came to Julien at different grades, they formed a friendship that could soon end if they go to different junior high schools.

“I’m happy because it means no more elementary, but it’s kind of sad because we won’t get to see a lot of our friends anymore, especially those that are younger than us,” Ceballos said.

Parent April Mariscal’s son Cash, who is in first grade, is starting his first year in Julien’s Pod program, which provides students with a family-like atmosphere as they learn from a group of teachers starting in kindergarten and going through third grade.

“He didn’t get in for kindergarten but he just got in for first grade,” April said. “I think it’s going to be really good for him because he’ll be able to mentor the younger kids, but then will also be able to interact with the older ones.

“Having that family, close-knit atmosphere is going to be really good for him.”

Cash wants to be a police officer when he grows up, he said, and his favorite subject is reading. Whether or not those choices remain the same as he makes his way toward graduation doesn’t matter, April said, as long as he tries his best.

“I just hope that he does well in school and that he excels academically and makes good decisions,” she said. “I hope he becomes whatever he wants to become one day.”