A teary-eyed Laura Escareno left Argyle Elementary School Monday after dropping off her 6-year-old daughter, Peyton Sandusky, for her first day of kindergarten.
“She wanted me to stay with her,” Escareno said while fighting back a second round of tears, “but I had to go to work.”
Escareno was one of several Cobb County parents dealing with first-day anxiety as their children headed to school to start the 2016-17 school year.
At Argyle, art teacher Amy Wilkins worked as a carpool attendant, helping greet students before they got to the door. Teacher of the year Roslyn Burton greeted parents inside the building and helped usher high-spirited children to their classrooms. Burton said she tries to replace students’ feelings of anxiety with feelings of excitement.
“I’m just as excited as the kids,” Burton said.
But alleviating first-day fears was not exclusively an elementary school effort. Cobb County officials — from the school board to individual teachers at schools across the county — worked to soothe the fears of parents and students on the first day back.
Superintendent Chris Ragsdale visited three schools to speak to parents and students before the day started.
“Generally on the first day, we try to go out to a few schools and meet parents and relieve some of the anxiety that parents have on the first day,” Ragsdale said. “We want to make sure they know that their student’s safety is the top priority for us.”
In middle schools, teachers helped to relax nervous sixth-grade students and their equally nervous parents.
“We do a lot of problem solving on the first day of school” by addressing “concerns of parents learning the new environment and how different things work,” Laura Montgomery said. “It takes a lot of face-to-face, one-on-one conversation on the first day.” Montgomery is celebrating her fifth year as the principal of Hightower Trail Middle School.
Montgomery said that middle-schoolers — particularly sixth-graders — have their fair share of worries, such as adjusting to class changes and learning how to open lockers.
“Sometimes I think the beginning of middle school is just as stressful as the beginning of kindergarten, because it’s a different school and a different environment for sixth-graders,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery stood alongside teachers, greeting students as they came down the hallway and ensuring that each of them found their locker and homeroom class.
“I just think it’s important for people to see a hope, a friendly face, a smile,” Montgomery said. “There’s just a lot of patience and a lot of time spent on the first day of school. We just have to be very careful and very watchful and make sure kids are getting the support they need.”
Cobb County was one of the first school systems in Georgia to start classes this year. Atlanta Public Schools open on Wednesday, Aug. 3. Classes for Gwinnett, Fulton, Clayton and DeKalb commence Monday, Aug. 8.
Anxiety and fears aside, Montgomery said she hopes the first day of school will set the expectation for the rest of the school year.
“School is not school to me until the kids come in the building,” Montgomery said. “I want kids to know that they’re welcome. I want them to know that we care about every single one of them. I want them to know everybody in this building is concerned about figuring out how they learn best and how we can make their day amazing.
“That’s my theme for the whole year. I want kids to have an amazing day, every day.”