Education

Manatee County welcomes back students for 2016-17 year

Nine-year-old Devin Rodriquez was awake at 4:40 a.m. on Wednesday.

It was the first day of fourth grade at Blackburn Elementary School and Devin was excited.

“I think it will be harder, finally,” he said. “I’m excited about my classmates.”

Devin got an earlier start than most returning Manatee County School District children on Wednesday. Devin’s mom, Yanira Diaz, drives a bus for the school district and she reported to work at 5:45 a.m. to prepare the bus for her routes. Diaz has worked for the district for the past nine years and Devin is always the first student on her bus in the morning and the last student off her bus in the afternoon.

Across the county, almost 49,000 students — an 850 increase from last year — reported for the first day of the 2016-17 school year on Wednesday. Fifty traditional public schools and more than 6,000 employees welcomed in the students for the first day.

“My hope is that we’re going to have a fantastic school year,” Superintendent Diana Greene said. “We’ve got a lot going on.”

At G.D. Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary School, students from the shuttered Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School walked into their new home. Principal Pat Stream, who said she was a little nervous about how the first morning might go, said she felt the morning went pretty smoothly.

“This was fabulous,” she said. “It always looks like chaos the first day of school. Everything worked and that was a blessing.”

Stream’s school was flooded with media, board members and Superintendent Diana Greene on the first day, as everyone was eager to see how the new school would play out. Students, some calling out and recognizing former teachers, were excited for the year to begin. As with every year, there were a few tears as the youngest learners separated from their parents for the first time.

But once everybody was in place, it was time to get down to business. In Michael McDaniel’s fourth-grade class, students began the year by writing seven sentences about what they did during the summer. Greene visited a kindergarten class to read a story. Other classrooms began with introductions. The fun and games started right away with PE teachers Sean Mackey and Bryan Baker.

Multiple outfit changes were in order this morning before sixth-graders Delaney Gutieriez, Kennedy Lollar and Brianna Ngo arrived at Braden River Middle on the first day of school.

Getting ready was a little different for the boys.

“I just looked in my closet and put on clothes,” said sixth-grader Max Miranda.

Before heading to homeroom on the first day, students gathered in the courtyard, exchanging hugs with friends and clutching folded-up schedules.

“At first when I got here I didn’t know what to do and I’m kinda nervous,” sixth-grader Delaney said.

“’Cause I know about four people in this school,” added Kennedy.

Nerves and excitement collided as incoming sixth graders prepared to learn the ropes and exiting eighth graders got ready to transition into high school.

Eighth-grader Lydia Hart said she’s ready to finally be done with middle school.

“I technically have wasps in my stomach,” said sixth-grader Max.

At Palmetto High, students from different grades mixed in the cafeteria about halfway through the first day of the school year, with some saying they were happy to be back and others wishing the summer months could have gone on just a little longer.

“I was excited. I was ready,” said Ashley Skipper, a 16-year-old senior.

“I wasn’t ready,” her friend Holli Stanker, a 16-year-old junior chimed in.

Camryn Mark and Kerstyn Maugherman were both up by 6 a.m. to make sure their hair, makeup and first day of school outfits were “on point.”

“I like the people here,” Camryn said.

“Here, it doesn’t matter. Everybody gets along,” Kerstyn said.

To help make sure the first day goes smoothly, district personnel were scattered at various schools throughout the district, to be an extra set of eyes and ears in the building. The transportation department set up a phone bank for parents with questions or concerns about their bus routes. Parents can call 941-782-1BUS (1287), transportation director Jason Harris said.

More than 150 buses were running on Wednesday, and Harris said he was almost fully staffed, but is always looking to hire new drivers.

“Just be patient,” Harris advised. “We’ll make sure we get them to and from school.”

Hannah Morse contributed to this report.

Meghin Delaney: 941-745-7081, @MeghinDelaney

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