Students lined up outside of Barge-Lincoln Elementary School in Yakima just before 8 a.m. Wednesday before kicking off the new school year with breakfast.
Across the Yakima School District, roughly 16,000 students returned to the classroom. At Barge-Lincoln alone, about 620 students — decked in new school outfits and vibrantly colored backpacks — were full of excitement and nerves, while their parents had their own emotions.
“I almost want to cry,” said Coral Collins as she walked her 5-year-old daughter, Brooklyn, into the school for her first day. “It’s exciting for your little ones to go back to school, but at the same time it’s nerve-wracking. Are they going to like the transition?”
Collins said her youngest, Mercedez, 3, started preschool this year, while Brooklyn was starting kindergarten. Her oldest son, Antonio, 7, was moving up to second grade.
Brooklyn was all smiles as she made her way into the cafeteria, helping to quell any of Collins’ nerves.
“She’s the best little girl when it comes to school,” she said. “She’s like, ‘Mom, let’s go to school. Mom, let’s go,’ and she was crying over the summer because she didn’t have school.”
Down the hall, Yakima Sunrise Rotary Club members greeted parents and students before they entered the cafeteria.
“It’s great,” club member Donna Sorensen said between high fives and waves to incoming students. “A lot of smiling faces. Some sleepy faces, but a lot of smiling faces.”
Principal Hector Mendez was in the cafeteria welcoming students back as they munched on their breakfasts. He said the start of school is the best time of the year, and he enjoys seeing all the smiling faces.
“I love it. Nothing better,” he said. “We’ve been preparing all summer for this one day, because this kicks off the school year. It’s awesome.”
Mendez said he was excited to start new programs this year to further engage students in learning, including a robotics club after school.
Returning to school was a bit intimidating for 10-year-old Makayla McCandless. But her best friend since second grade was in her class this year, and she had the fifth grade teacher she had hoped for — Elizabeth Tull.
“I wanted her for (my) fifth-grade teacher and I got her. That makes me really happy. I heard about her that she’s really cool,” she said. “That she can be really nice and that she’s a really fun teacher.”
Another student, Brianna Martinez, 8, was excited to enter Dawn Dick’s third grade class, where she heard good behavior was rewarded with “Gotcha” coupons that could be cashed in for prizes in a classroom shop.
Dayana Ceballos, 5, said she was most excited to practice writing her name.
After finishing breakfast, students funneled back into the hallways, where teachers like Marie Webb greeted each student by name and gave them directions. Preschool and kindergartners were sent to the front of the school where their classrooms were, while older kids congregated on the playground until the bell rang.
The music teacher said she was happy to be back at school.
“I’m excited to see my kids,” Webb said. “Just seeing the kids and their little happy faces when they see you and they know that this is a safe place that they can come and have breakfast and learn.”
Out on the playground, Reyes Leon, 7, and his mom Adrianna were preparing to say goodbye to each other. They both said they were nervous — Reyes was worried second grade homework might be more challenging, while Adrianna hoped her youngest son would make good friends this year. In kindergarten and first grade, he had been in a class with his best friend Nikolai Vijano.
“They’ve been together since kindergarten and now they got split,” Nikolai’s mom, Yanely Vijano said, adding that she too was a bit nervous. But mostly, she was eager to see what the boys would learn in their new classes. “I’m excited to see how much they’re going to expand this year.”