That August day has come again, the day when schools swell with teachers and students and summer days slip into memory. The first day of school, like its end-of-year bookend, is a familiar tradition made special by the certainty that every one will be different than the last. Each year, the patterns and routines of this day will be reinfused with new faces, new scenes and new emotions. Here’s how the day played out in three Durango schools.
An early hint of the coming autumn chill lingers in the morning air as Durango School District 9-R bus number FR2 rolls into Edgemont Ranch. Brothers Orrin and Kyle Bleth sit in the second row, eyes still hanging on to the last vestiges of sleep. The signs of summer still show on Orrin’s face – scars from when he went off a jump on his bike and crashed. The brothers aren’t very excited for school to start, Orrin says.
“We like sleeping in.”
FR2 arrives at Riverview Elementary amid a colorful tangle of parents, teachers and students. The students start filing off the bus. “Front first, let’s go, guys, seat by seat,” says Crystal Schmit, the driver. “Bye bye, have a good day.”
The first days back are always different because drivers are still getting used to the school buses being back on the roads, she said.
Ben and Bernie Stoddard squint into the sun as their mother, Whisper, photographs them in front of Riverview’s sign. It was a tradition to get photographs of all the neighborhood children on their way to school and her boys posing with their teachers, Whisper said. Ben woke up first this morning and took the liberty of getting his brother out of bed.
“I woke up Bernie by poking his stomach,” he said. His brother piped up to confirm the fact.
New fifth-graders Katie Rydz and Sylvia Reyes survey the scene in front of Riverview, pointing out new and familiar faces among the students mingling outside. Both girls said they had barely slept the night before, but looked bright-eyed and freshly groomed as they chatted and giggled before the start of school. Her sister helped her pick out her outfit for the day, Reyes said, and she even skipped biking to school because that would mean wearing a helmet and messing up her hair.
Parents filter out through Riverview’s doors after walking their kids to the classroom. They help themselves to doughnuts and coffee set up outside, a welcome reward for another first day down in the books.
Miller Middle School seventh-grade language arts teacher Tiffany Mapel takes the first roll call of the year. Students turn in their seats and burst into excited chatter as they hear Mapel call the names of their new classmates, everyone eager to see who’s here, who’s not and who changed the most over the summer.
After a flurry of activity, the hallways of Miller Middle School are silent again. Language arts and humanities teacher Destiny Schipman adjusts her skirt as she readies for the first batch of eighth-graders to flood into her classroom. Her students will begin the year learning about the idea of success with reading material that sounds more motivational self-help than literary masterpiece, including How to Think like Leonardo Da Vinci and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.
The seventh-grade hallway at Miller is filled with the clicking, clanking and banging of lockers being opened and closed as students are assigned their lockers for the year. As she piles supplies into her locker, Maya Johnson starts with the important stuff: a hot pink cheetah print magnet, pencil holders and a mirror. The girls can spend hours decorating their locker, said Mapel, the seventh-grade teacher, as she looked on. But the boys? Not so much, she said.
At Durango High School, a long line of seniors extends from a folding table with a sign pasted above it: senior parking passes. It’s the all-important reward for making it to the final year of high school. Every senior gets a parking pass for the school’s main lot, but they wait in line because the first people get the prime spots closest to school. Staysha McBride and her friends are seniors this year, a fact that is “pretty fantastic,” McBride said. What wasn’t fantastic, the girls agreed was the district’s recent switch from early-release Fridays to early-release Mondays.
Eyes glued to her phone and fingers flying across the keyboard, Destiny Oropeza stands inside the front doors to Durango High School, waiting for class schedules to be released. Oropeza will be a junior this year which isn’t as big of a deal as the fact that she had moved to Durango from Montrose the day before school. She knows just one other girl at the high school, she said.
“There’s a big difference between freshman and sophomore year, but as a junior, it’s just another year of high school,” said Oropeza, her eyes framed with black eyeliner swept into classic pinup girl style.
“You took my watermelon!” Harry Steinberg accuses his friend as he sits down to lunch. Steinberg and nine other friends fill one of the round tables in the Durango High School cafeteria. The gang of boys chow down on a lunch of chili and cheese-covered baked potatoes and watermelon slices. The cafeteria serves other options such as salads, the boys said, but baked potatoes were determined to best hit the spot.
The steely gray afternoon clouds tumble across the sun as the first elementary-schoolers come out of school. An hour later the high-schoolers stream out of Durango High School’s doors on this early release Monday. One day down, 174 more to go.