So far, so good for back-to-school.
More than 600,000 students returned to class Monday in Broward and Miami-Dade. Motorists saw more traffic and dealt with a few crashes and delays on the roadways.
But, overall, parents and students reported a fairly smooth transition.
“The boys are a little nervous,” said Marc Volel, arriving at Devon Aire K-8 Center in southwest Dade with his two sons at 7:50 a.m., well ahead of the bell. “But, overall it’s like riding a bike. Once you get back to it, it’s like you never left.”
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For Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie, it’s his first school-start as the chief of the nation’s sixth-largest school district.
“It really is energizing,” Runcie said. “It’s inspiring to see all the children back, just the look on their faces, the smiles.”
Both Runcie and Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho started their days at bus depots — bright and early at 5:30 and 6 a.m., respectively.
There were a few transportation hiccups on the first day in Broward. School bus passes that are sent to children – which indicate their bus stop and pickup time – were mailed two days late, according to Runcie. The superintendent blamed the delay on upgrades to the district’s internal bus routing system. Instead of being sent out last Monday, the passes were mailed on Wednesday. Runcie called it a “minor glitch” that didn’t affect most families.
“A vast majority of parents in the district received the information in the mail,” Runcie said, adding that the district also made automated phone calls to families that relayed school bus information. Additionally, school bus routes were posted online, and Broward school bus depots held their usual “open houses” over the weekend to answer questions.
Across South Florida, principals, teachers, parents and students embraced the back-to-school excitement and rituals.
“I love it, I love having the students back. For me, this is why we’re here,” said Elaine Saef, principal at Panther Run Elementary in Broward. Before the first bell, she ran around answering questions for parents and directing students to their class rooms.
Parent Monica Perez, who works in sales, arrived early at 7 a.m. Her children, Adriana and Ryan Juan, spent the summer taking karate classes and visited Universal Studios. Monday the school ritual returned. “We took out the uniforms, iron the uniforms. We had to get the nails done, the hair done, it’s like a wedding,” she said.
Second-grader Brianna Vanantwerp brought a bouquet of flowers for her teacher, Mrs. Trager. Others were new and nervous for their first day. When Marie Alvarez dropped her son Aidan off for his first day of kindergarten, he started to cry. She felt like crying, too.
“I feel so sad. We drove everyday in front of the school to prepare, telling him it’s big boy school. We had a special breakfast this morning with chocolate chips with pancakes,” Alvarez said.
At Hollywood’s Orange Brook Elementary School, the Heat took center stage – in more ways than one.
Two Miami Heat players, Norris Cole and Dexter Pittman, were on hand as part of a school supplies giveaway sponsored by Office Depot. But the event led to hundreds of parents and students having to wait in line in the actual heat – as in, South Florida’s sticky August sun.
Parents used Office Depot fliers to fan themselves, and the presence of Heat mascot “Burnie” – who posed for pictures and prompted giggles with his antics – helped to somewhat soothe parents’ frustration.
“The giveaway is great,” said parent Urshala Spence, “The kids love Burnie.”
Students also got to view the Heat’s championship trophy, which was on display
Orange Brook was one of many Broward elementary schools where elective classes were cut last year because of budget reasons – in this school’s case, it was music classes that were eliminated.
Those electives have been restored district-wide this year, which was great news for second grader Gakharra Booker, who loved her past music classes.
“We were dancing and stuff,” Gakharra, 7, said. “We had a lot of fun.”
Parents and students weren’t the only ones brimming with excitement – Broward School Board member Ann Murray woke up at 2:30 a.m. because of the “anticipation.”
“Your adrenaline gets flowing,” said Murray, who visited Orange Brook and planned to stop by four other schools on Monday.
Murray said Orange Brook – with a large number of poor students – was worthy of a special NBA-style first day.
“It’s an A school, and it has been for several years,” Murray said.
South Florida students will see some new programs this year. Among them, a new military-style academy in Hollywood and Miami-Dade’s first video-game-themed magnet at Miami Springs Senior.
At MAST Academy, a marine-themed magnet high school that expanded seats this year, administrators checked over new portables as the school adds an eighth-grade class this year. As the early morning bicyclists crossed over the Rickenbacker Causeway, a stream of traffic passed as parents dropped off their children. Some of the school bus routes won’t be running for a couple of weeks while administrators plot out the needs for children who come from all over the county, some of whom will take a combo bus and Metrorail.
At Devon Aire K-8 Center in southwest Miami-Dade, Sunja Leon collected the schedules in the main office for her two sons 8-year-old Noah and 6-year-old Khalil. The boys waited in the car with their dad and enjoyed the last few minutes of summer. “Waking up this morning was crazy. No one wanted to wake up this early,” she said, holding a white bag stuffed with books and binders. Noah and Khalil start third and first grades, respectively, and will be in school together for the first time.
Four-year-old Bianca held her mom’s hand as they arrived at Devon Aire.
Dressed in her burgundy school uniform and sporting pig tails with pink hair ties, Bianca smiled when asked about her summer activities.
“I saw Mickey this summer,” she reported.
Her mother and father, Jason and Edenia Friedman, prepared months in advance for back-to-school for Bianca and her brother Nicholas.
“We bought the uniforms before the summer started, and the supplies about a month ago,” Edenia Friedman said.
At Dr. Michael Krop Senior High in Northwest Miami-Dade, Principal Dawn Baglos greeted students at the school door and checked for dress-code compliance: shorts to the knee, no thin-strapped tank tops, no hats, no questionable sayings on T-shirts. Students took heed of the principal’s warning at orientation: in class by 7:20. At 7:15, waves of teens were in the halls ready to start their day at the 2,700-student school.
In Miami-Dade, the first day of school also starts the district’s campaign for a $1.2 billion bond referendum. The School Board will put the question before voters in November, to borrow up to $1.2 billion in bonds in order to upgrade crumbling schools and modernize school technology. The money would be repaid with property-tax revenue.
At Hialeah Senior High, students skipped a mini-traffic jam near the campus and walked up to the school.
Their first sight: recently pressure-cleaned stairs and a fresh coat of blue paint on the doors.
While the school got spruced up for the new year, Hialeah High is one of the many schools in Miami-Dade that is in desperate need of capital improvements.
“As one of the oldest schools in the county, Hialeah High should be included in the proposal of buildings to be refurbished,” said Alexander Santoyo, assistant principal. “We want the students to have to same opportunities as other students attending newer schools.”
The 58-year old school is especially lacking in technological advancements.
“It’s not even about having the latest technology,” said Daniel Reyes, a student at the school. “We don’t even have enough computers for students to use on a regular basis.”
This year, Hialeah High had enough funds to paint the classroom doors, fix the tiles in one of the buildings and put together a new computer lab.
Ada Nunez, a parent and teacher at Hialeah Senior, said despite a new computer lab, they still are lacking. “There wasn’t enough money to buy new desks for the new lab,” she said, adding, “but the school tries to do the best it can with what it has.”
On Monday, students saw the grand reopening of North Dade Middle, a school that had to be evacuated two years ago because of safety concerns. The campus opened its doors with a brand new building.