A star-studded red carpet, prize-toting police officers and plenty of encouragement awaited elementary students throughout Turlock Unified School District as they went back to school Monday morning, with sites pulling out all the stops to help ease the first day of school jitters.
Just over 14,000 students went back to school at campuses throughout the city this week, from freshmen just beginning their high school journeys to seniors celebrating the end of their own. Sixth graders excitedly looked ahead to junior high already on Monday, while kindergarteners had to become used to the idea of saying goodbye to their families for the day.
Crowell Elementary School will be home to around 600 students this year, principal Margaret Osmer said, and the campus welcomed its incoming classes of Cougars with positive messages written in sidewalk chalk, urging them to “Smile” and “Work hard” while reminding them that they’re “smart and kind.”
“My favorite thing about our school is how caring it is,” sixth grader Aanira Day said. “Today, my goal is to meet new people and be kind to them, too.”
Day and her classmate Yamilet Trujillo said they’ve been attending Crowell since kindergarten and couldn’t believe Monday was the start of their last year on campus. They’ll be attending Turlock Junior High School next year, but intend on making their sixth grade year count.
“I’m going to miss Crowell a lot because I love this school, but I’m going to work as hard as I can to prepare for junior high,” Trujillo said.
As the two sixth grade girls reflected on how far they’ve come, mom Cassandra Navarrete wondered how time could pass so quickly as she prepared to drop her son off at kindergarten — something she’s done twice before with her other children, she said, but a task that never becomes easier.
“This one’s still my baby. It’s bittersweet because you know they need to go and be without their mom all day, but you also wonder if they’re going to take care of themselves. Are they going to listen? Are they going to behave? Are they going to be safe?” Navarrete said.
A lot goes into preparing a kindergartener for their first day of school, she added, like teaching proper manners, making sure they know to listen to their teacher and even making sure they’re aware of the appropriate way to play with other kids on the playground.
For Lyndsie Russell, in addition to concern for her son after dropping him off at his first day of kindergarten, she realized she had someone else to worry about: herself.
“I’m nervous and I’m excited for him because I know he’s really excited, but it’s my little baby and he’s the only one I have,” Russell said. “It’s a little overwhelming; you spend all day with your kid almost every day and then all of a sudden he’s gone for a majority of it so it’s like, what do I do now?”
As parents looked on, students making their way to class at Crowell were greeted by Turlock Police Chief Nino Amirfar, who handed out pencils, sunglasses, tote bags and even coloring books emblazoned with the Turlock Police Activities League logo. Just down the street, Officer Sergio Perez passed out badge stickers and helped the crossing guard ensure that each student got across the street safely.
According to Amirfar, there wasn’t as much traffic control across the TUSD campuses as in past years due to budget constraints that have led to a lack in overtime pay. Despite the lack of patrol officers on hand, a majority of the Turlock Police Department’s command staff was out at school sites to greet students, he said, as well as volunteer officers.
At Medeiros Elementary School, TPD Sergeant Dave Shaw and Crime Prevention Specialist Michelle Balacek joined Turlock firefighters, Stanislaus State basketball players and cheerleaders from the university for a red-carpet event welcoming students back to campus and at Walnut Elementary School, a “Back to School” banner made for the perfect photo op.
No matter which campus students started the new school year at on Monday, there was one constant: a welcoming, supportive atmosphere.
“Everyone is just so polite here,” Navarrete said. “I think that’s just Turlock in general.”