By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – Stanley George calmly walked into his classroom on his first day of kindergarten.
The Joyner Elementary School student saw one of his friends from T-ball, sat down and began coloring.
His parents felt a bit more torn.
“He is crazy excited, and I’m crazy emotional,” said Eric George, after he and his wife, Kendra, departed from Stanley’s classroom.
Tupelo’s schools opened their doors on Monday, as students returned from summer break. Several other Northeast Mississippi schools also will start this week.
Stanley prepared for his first day of school by reading on Sunday night “Sweet Dreams,” a poem the school had sent home. They also gave him some confetti to put under his pillow to help with the jitters.
He had attended the Early Childhood Education Center, the school district’s pre-kindergarten program, Kendra said, so he was ready. But it still felt different, she said, seeing him in kindergarten.
Shanna McCuistian also brought her son Kye to his first day of kindergarten at Joyner. The family just moved from Charleston, South Carolina, and they began the day by posting a Facebook photo for friends and relatives who live outside the state.
In the image, Kye’s 3-year-old sister, Lily, stood next to him with a sign that read, “Good luck, Kye. I’ll miss you.”
“I’m doing good,” McCuistian said, noting her son was excited and that he loves to learn. “It will hit me later, once all of the emotions have died down.”
Joyner had a fresh feel following extensive summer work to restore the building that was damaged by last April’s tornado. It greeted students with a new roof and a colorful tile floor, as well as new paint and lights.
Although first- and second-graders had returned to campus for the final three weeks of school, kindergartners – whose classrooms suffered the most roof and water damage – finished the year at Church Street School. Monday was the first time all three grades were again together in one building since the tornado.
“There is nothing more special than watching our students walk in the front door,” said Joyner Principal Kim Foster. “To watch them walk in the front door with so many aspects of the school being brand new and in a brand new year is monumental for the history of who we are.”
The new year got off to a good start across the district, said Superintendent Gearl Loden.
“Today went smoothly at all of our schools,” he said. “Our teachers and staff are setting the stage and will begin establishing expectations. Through surveys, we will be asking for feedback from our students, parents and teachers on how this first week went.”
At Milam Elementary, where all sixth-graders come together for the first time, students also were adjusting to a new school and a new routine.
“This morning I was worried about what that noise was, and apparently it was my alarm,” said Sadie Reid, 11, a sixth-grader at Milam who also said she was excited to return to school.
Tupelo High School’s seniors, meanwhile, were beginning their final year in the district. As they traditionally do, they gathered in the parking lot of Harrisburg Baptist Church at around 6:45 in the morning to parade onto campus in their cars.
“You always hear people say before you know it, you will be graduating, but you don’t believe it,” said Braxton Thomas, 17. “It goes in one ear and out the other. But it’s true.”