Summer break is officially over in Manatee County.
Yellow school buses and crossing guards in place, the 2017-18 year was off to a muggy start Thursday.
At the transportation department, buses went out into the world with a hollering send-off. More than a dozen school officials waved banners with the words “Thank you” and the school district’s new hashtag, “#WeManatee.”
“We’re so excited because this year we have been expressing this sense of unity and community for school district, hence #WeManatee, which is short for, ‘We are the School District of Manatee County,” Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene said.
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About 49,500 students are enrolled in area schools from kindergarten to 12th grade. Nearly one-third of those students will be picked up by a school bus.
At Lakewood Ranch High School, old friends reunited and freshmen navigated to homeroom for the first time.
“Definitely nervous,” said Loganne Digma, a ninth-grader. “All the new surroundings and not knowing where to go.”
“Yeah, I’m afraid I’m going to trip falling up the stairs,” said Ella Derosa, another freshman.
Tenth-graders Nadia Rodriguez, Briana Pierson, Kacy Bua and Lauren Buck all nodded in unison when asked if it was difficult to get up Thursday morning. They all looked forward to football season, too, as they’re cheerleaders.
Over at Tara Elementary School, some students were coming to school for the first time.
Adrianna, 5, stood shyly with her brother Edgar, 8, and sister Kimberly, 10, as she waited to go to her kindergarten class.
“I’m excited that I’m getting new friends and to learn new things,” Edgar said. His favorite subject is math.
Kimberly echoed his thoughts.
As some safety patrols raised the Florida and American flags in front of the school, others were in charge of the carpool.
Ten-year-olds Ben and Tommy partnered up for the first day of school.
“I hope we all have a good year and also that every other class gets along,” Ben said.
“I’m looking forward to sixth grade,” Tommy said.
At Miller Elementary, first grade teacher Katelyn Potter led her students through the morning routine. She explained to the boys and girls that first-graders write their own name. She asked how students how they could earn Lightning Bolts as a reward for good behavior. Spencer, the most eager of her students, raised his hand eagerly.
“You have to listen to, I don’t know, I guess, a teacher?” Spencer said.
The first-graders sat attentively when the video announcements came on. Miller principal Scott Boyes and assistant principal Tia Henderson appear each morning in the school’s morning announcement show, with plenty of chirpy banter modeled after a morning talk show. The administrators explained some basic rules and threw in several compliments to the children.
“I knew they’d be back,” Henderson said, referring to the students. “They are so good looking. Did you see their hair? Fresh haircuts and gel.”
“Their sneakers are looking good, they’ll be really fast out there for coach,” Boyes said.
At Lincoln Memorial Middle School, principal Eddie Hundley made the rounds as the students went through the first-day routine. In Antonio Alves’ algebra one class, he set the tone for the year.
“There’s a reason why you’re in this class. You’re not in regular eighth grade math anymore,” said Alves, who was a recipient of the Governor’s Shine award last year. “This is a high school course. Which also means by the time you graduate high school, you might be taking college courses.”
Lincoln students Zahnijzah Byrd, 13, and Carson Friend, 13, both said they were excited to be back in school.
“Summer basically is pretty boring because you just sit around and watch TV all day and do nothing,” Friend said. “But at school you get to enjoy yourself, meet new people and have a great time, learn new things, and stuff like that.”
One day down, 179 more to go
When Southeast High School’s end-of-day bell rang at 2:05 p.m., students quickly filled the canopied hallways and open courtyards.
Ranisha Henry, 16, stood among a group of friends in the courtyard. She had a rough first day back — wearing a skirt with large rips in it meant she spent the day in in-school suspension.
“I got ISS (in-school suspension) for the first day of my junior year,” Henry said. “I’m supposed to be out here having fun, but I was locked up.”
Henry said one thing she was excited about for this school year was the basketball team.
“We are going to state this year,” she said.
Alexis Green, 17, began her school year instilling leadership principles into younger students. This year Green is the batallion commander for Southeast’s JROTC program, so she spent much of her first day setting the tone for the students under her leadership.
“Make sure they understand how leadership works,” Green said, describing her priorities for the first day. “There are all kinds of responsibilities with it. Making sure that they know what they are doing, know how to take control and take charge, you know? Be a leader.”
By the numbers
49,500 - Anticipated total enrollment in Manatee schools
49 - Traditional public schools
12 - Charter schools
15,000 - Breakfasts served daily in Manatee schools
3,400 - Student-athletes in high school
7,546,380 - Square footage of all district facilities
$856.5 million - Projected budget for 2017-18