Some wore raincoats, others came equipped with umbrellas or simply made a mad dash to the front door as students across the Brainerd lakes area returned to school in the rain Tuesday morning.
Brainerd Superintendent Steve Razidlo said that the start of the first day of school went well, despite the rain. There were buses running later than usual, but many school principals said this happens often on the first day.
Brainerd School Board members were spread out at each elementary school to show their support and to welcome students, parents and staff.
The closure of Whittier and Lincoln Elementary Schools in May, the elimination of the school of choice option and the reduction of teaching staff as part of district-wide budget reductions meant many Brainerd students - and many staff members - were "new" to their schools on Tuesday. And many of the elementary school buildings celebrated these changes.
Kjirstin Bingel squeezed daughter Mackenzie's hand on their way to the first day of kindergarten at Riverside Elementary School in Brainerd. Dad Scott Bingel and little sister, Hailey Bingel, 2, followed behind on the big day. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Jeff DeVaney, who served as principal at Lincoln last year, hosted his first "Monday Morning Meeting" on Tuesday for all students at his new school, Harrison Elementary School. Of the 260 students enrolled at Harrison, 99 of them were new to the school, excluding the kindergartners. They were joined by 10 new staff members, mostly from Lincoln, Whittier, Riverside and Nisswa.
Students at both Harrison and Lowell schools scurried about the hallways with excitement, stuffing their backpacks into their lockers before school began. Lowell Principal Todd Sauer said staff members were assigned to each door to greet students and to help them find their classrooms. Sauer said the school has 100 more students than last year, or about 420 students. These are similar total enrollment numbers to when Lowell included fifth-graders before Forestview Middle School opened.
Not long after the first school bell rang, a Lowell staff member notified the office of a missing child. When school staff called the parent to find out where her daughter was, she was naturally frantic since the little girl had gotten on the bus. Staff members checked bathrooms and the nurse's office but found the little girl, who was visibly worried because she was late for class, several minutes later as she got off a delayed shuttle bus from the high school. She was promptly given a hug from Lowell receptionist Nancy Waller and welcomed to school.
Riverside Principal Cathy Engler said 80 percent of the students are new to the school. Even though many of the students were new, Engler said there still were a lot of smiles from the students.
"The first day of school went well," Engler said. "All the kids were excited. We just need sunshine at recess then we'll be good."
Heather Rohde walked her two sons, Hunter, a third-grader, and Mason, a first-grader, to their classes at Riverside for their first day of school. Rohde said last year the boys went to Lincoln.
In a school-wide assembly Tuesday morning, Harrison Elementary School Principal Jeff DeVaney had all the former Garfield students stand up, along with those students who came from other Brainerd elementary schools. DeVaney and the entire school welcomed all the new students - 99 in total, excluding kindergartners - to the southeast Brainerd elementary school. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"It was hard," Rohde said of adjusting to a new, bigger school. "We liked Lincoln. It was closer to our house and it's nice and small. I had mixed feelings about coming here, but I've heard it's a good school."
To help with the transition, Rohde said they talked about the changes and toured Riverside to help the boys feel more comfortable.
Theresa and Jerry Smith of Brainerd were in the same boat. Their children, Tyler, a second-grader, was at Lowell last year and McKenzie, a kindergartner, came from the preschool program at the Early Childhood Family Education Center.
"They both were excited for school this morning," said Theresa Smith. "It went smooth. I think it helps that they're both at the same school this year ... I was more nervous for my little one, but she was excited to go."
Jilaine Heitkotter of Brainerd said even though her daughters, Zoey, a fourth-grader, and Sarah, a first-grader, attended Riverside last year and are at the same school this year, she said "it still feels like we're starting all over."
"It's crazy," said Heitkotter. "We just don't know anybody here anymore. My daughter Zoey doesn't have any of her old girlfriends in her class."
Jennifer Lindholm escorted her 6-year-old son, Marcus, a Harrison first-grader, to school Tuesday. Marcus attended Whittier last year.
"He's a little bit nervous," Lindholm said of her son starting a new school. "But I think it'll be fine."
Jane Fritscher, Garfield principal, said about 50 percent of the students are new to the school.
Fourth-graders in teacher Cory Litke's Garfield Elementary School classroom were asked to raise their hands Tuesday if they were new to the school. Fifty percent of the students raised their hands. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"Most of the kids found their classrooms," said Fritscher. "We gave a lot of individual tours and there were a lot of people at our open house. A few kids missed the open house so we walked them to their classrooms."
This is Steve Lundberg's first year as principal at Baxter. Lundberg was principal at Harrison and Whittier elementary schools last year.
"I was like a kindergarten student at a new school," said Lundberg. "This morning I learned how things work at Baxter. I met new parents and happy kids and nervous kids."
Lundberg said there are about 50-70 new students in Baxter, which includes the kindergarten students.
Erin Herman was back at Nisswa as principal, after spending two years as the Baxter principal. Herman said being the Baxter principal was a wonderful opportunity, but added, "It feels really good to be back to Nisswa ... Nisswa is home to me."
Herman said there are about 60 new students at Nisswa, excluding the 55 kindergarten students.
Herman said the one thing that was tough Tuesday was making the decision to have indoor recess.
Forestview principal Donna Whalen thanked parents for their cooperation through all these changes this year.
"We did have late buses but other than that, it's been a very, very smooth start," said Whalen.
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