There’s an excitement on Cobb County Schools bus driver Claudette Petsch’s face Thursday morning as she rounds the corner in a Marietta subdivision, heading toward a handful of students she recognizes.

“Welcome aboard! Happy first day!” Petsch and several guests say as the children board.

Cobb County is the largest of about a dozen metro Atlanta school systems — including Henry and Paulding counties as well as Marietta and Decatur city districts — with thousands of students reporting to school on the first day of August. Some other school districts begin classes on Monday, then a few more on Aug. 12.

Along Petsch’s route were cell-phone wielding parents, capturing a first-day-of-school moment to later be posted online for friends and family. Some hug their children. Some watch their children off to school through tears. One man high-fives his son before the new kindergartener ascends the bus steps.

At one intersection, Petsch pulls in, opens her doors and waits. Two students were supposed to board. Instead, she pulls off without them, hardly surprised.

“It’s the first day,” she said, adding that most parents opt to drive their children on the first day. “It’s hard for (parents) to let go of their little ones.

Few found trouble with districts’ decision to start school on Aug. 1. A Senate committee recommended starting school no earlier than 10 days before the Labor Day holiday, prompting several school districts to start school later this year.

“I like it because that way they get their breaks throughout the year,” said Karen Miller, who had to drop off three kids at three different schools Thursday.

August 1, 2019, 2019 - McDonough - Students check class listings as the school day begins. Henry County students have their first day of school at the brand new McDonough Middle School. Thursday was the first day of school of the 2019-2020 school year. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/robert.andres@ajc.com

Jason Deele, whose daughter started 7th grade, said the start date did not matter to him, but the passage of time can be a shock.

“Other than she’s getting older and doesn’t need me anymore, I’m OK,” he joked.

Andreya Parker, a new 5th grader at Clarkdale Elementary in Austell, was anxious to see her classmates’ reaction to a new look.

“I got braces and my hair is shorter and I’m taller,” the 10-year-old said.

Cobb Schools Deputy Superintendent John Adams said school bus drivers will log about 1,000 routes and hit some 35,000 stops along the way. At its peak, the school’s bus system will bring more than 70,000 students to and from school each day.

This also is the first full year the district will use the “Here Comes the Bus” app for parents to keep tabs on bus routes. Using unique codes sent to parents for each route where they have a child assigned, the app will allow parents to track the bus’ location. Adams said about 35,000 parents already are signed up to use the technology.

“School buses are one of the safest ways to get there,” he said.

Henry County Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis on Wednesday checks out the outdoor classroom at McDonough Middle School. The school is one of two opening Thursday in fast-growing Henry County, which expects its student population to hit about 44,000 students this year. BOB ANDRES / ROBERT.ANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The staff at Henry County’s McDonough Middle School, waving black and yellow pom poms, cheered and whooped as students descended from buses for the first day of classes. McDonough is one of two new schools for the fast-growing district, which expects to hit 44,000 students this year, more than doubling the number of pupils in the south metro community 19 years ago.

“Come on in, I know you’re excited to be back,” Assistant Principal Lawrence Gwyn said as the youngsters filed in.

The halls of the roughly 196,000-square-foot building filled quickly. Best friends connected in classes, teachers helped guide parents and their children to unfamiliar rooms and staff beamed at students they haven’t seen during the short summer break.

“The first day is always so exciting seeing all their little faces, especially this one,” said sixth-grade teacher Ann St. Bernard while greeting D’Wayne Graham, 12.

Ashley Brown walks her daughters — Janiya, 13, and Kamiya, 11 — to class at the school for the first time. The eighth- and seventh-graders, respectively, are transfers to the district from Fulton County Schools and were a little nervous about being new.

“It’s the first day, so we’ll see how it went at the end of the day,” Brown said of her daughters’ trepidation. “It’s a change of scenery for them.”

August 1, 2019, 2019 - McDonough - Sixth graders Jassiah Allen (from left) Hannah Estacio and Victoria Phillip fill out their class preferences as they wait in the cafeteria for the school day to begin. Henry County students have their first day of school at the brand new McDonough Middle School. Thursday was the first day of school of the 2019-2020 school year. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/robert.andres@ajc.com

As might have been expected there were some snafus in opening a new school for the first time. Classes started a little late as everyone tried to get oriented to a new space. And at least one parent said she had to drive her daughter to school because a bus did not show up on time.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X