Rosedale Middle School Principal Becky Devahl stood at the gate, her watchful eyes scanning the crowd of students gathered like a herd of wildebeests waiting to enter a lush valley.
It was the first day of school all across the city, and Devahl, now in her ninth year as principal, and 22nd as an educator, knows the importance of setting the tone on the first day.
As Campus Supervisor Alan Wyatt swung open the gate, he waved his hand, beckoning the crowd.
"Good morning, students. You ready?" Devahl said as the young students filed through the gate to begin another year of learning.
She shook hands. She smiled. She looked them in the eye.
Wednesday marked the start of a new school year for tens of thousands of students in the city's major school districts. District officials reported the first day of school went smoothly, with no major issues. Instead, the focus of the day was on helping students — and in some cases, parents — feel welcomed, comfortable and excited for the year ahead.
“We’re trying to offer families that first amazing interaction where they say ‘Wow, this is a great place for my kid to go to school,’” said Mark Luque, assistant superintendent of educational services for the Bakersfield City School District.
Here are some scenes, moments and sentiments captured at schools throughout the city.
'KIND OF SCARY'
As students filed through the gates at Rosedale Middle, some were thrilled, some were scared, some were there for the first time.
"Do you know where your first period class is?" Devahl, the principal, asked to nods and smiles.
The northwest Bakersfield campus has seen many changes, including a new gym. Signs of ongoing construction are everywhere. But the educational calendar can't be put on hold for such things.
Kaylie Batton and Jaime Sinden, both newly minted seventh-graders arrived early Wednesday morning.
They were all smiles.
“I’m excited because we’re close friends and we have first period together,” said Sinden.
Teacher Melissa Richert, whose Farm-to-Table instruction will include students planning, cultivating and harvesting a garden as well as cooking the food they grow, stood outside her classroom waiting for the flood.
"Today will be about the students getting to know my class and getting to know each other," Richert said. "They need to find out the things they have in common."
Outside the gate, Rebecca Hall dropped off her 12-year-old daughter, Scarlett.
"This is kind of scary for her," Hall said of her daughter's first day at a school where students have a different teacher for each subject.
Indeed, the transition from elementary to intermediate school can be daunting — for both student and parent. And Hall said if she could, she would watch over her child all day.
But she knows that's impossible. She knows she must allow Scarlett to fly on her own.
Still, it's not easy.
Said Hall, "I may be more nervous than she is."
— Steven Mayer
DON'T BITE, HONEY: ROOSEVELT SCHOOL WELCOMES ANOTHER CROP
A school principal's job description can be quite long. For Susana Rios, Wednesday's list of essential duties included traffic cop. Children, this way. Parents, that way.
For children attending the first day of instruction at central Bakersfield's Roosevelt Elementary, "this way" took them straight into the cafeteria, where a hot, welcome-back breakfast awaited. For the parents who brought those children but couldn't bear the thought of just leaving them, "that way" was to the back of a line that curved around the sidewalk in front of the school. They would have to check in at the office before walking on to campus.
Long gone are the days of simply following Johnny into the classroom for first-day introductions.
"Good morning! Welcome back!" Rios said to every freshly scrubbed child who approached, invariably clutching the hand of an anxious-looking parent. "Have you had breakfast?"
Danny and Gabrielle Gomez got a double dose of the big goodbye. They dropped off both of their small children — 3-year-old Sebastian, who was starting preschool and wasn't particularly happy about it, and 4-year-old Jocelyn, who was starting T-K, or transitional kindergarten, and was fine.
"She did pretty good," Danny Gomez said. "She's got a cousin in there with her, so that helped."
It helped, too, that mom and dad coached her up a little beforehand.
"We've been talking to her about school for the last month," Danny said. "What to do, what not to do. A little pep talk: Don't bite, do what the teacher says, be good."
Ten minutes after the bell announced the start of another school year, they felt comfortable enough to entrust their babies to the Bakersfield City School District and go about their day.
"We're still trying to keep it together," Gabrielle Gomez said. "So far, we're doing OK."
— Robert Price
FOR PARENTS, SOME BREATHING ROOM
At Munsey Elementary School, not far from Valley Plaza Mall, several parents were enrolling their children for classes at the last minute, some still in the process well after class started.
Abigail Villanueva was enrolling her daughter Aryanna in kindergarten for the new school year. Villanueva said she was excited to ship her first child off to school and let her experience it for the first time.
"It's a good learning experience for both of us," she said. "She's happy to learn and be around other kids."
Villanueva said she's looking forward to some quiet time at home now that her child is in school.
"It gives me a little breathing room," she said. "I don't have to worry about daycare. I know she's in a safe place. She'll be fine."
Heather White was also enrolling her child, La'Nayah Rowe, at the school on Wednesday. White has older children and Wednesday was the first time in several years that she's sent a child off to school for the first time.
"I'm really excited and she's really excited," she said. "I might cry."
— Joesph Luiz
'WE LOVE THIS SCHOOL'
Students flooded through the gates at Bimat Elementary School and filed underneath a giant sign with the school’s name spelled out in shiny balloons.
“We love this school. It’s such a nice community school,” said Danny Means, a parent of two Bimat students.
Both of Means’ children, Jase and AJ posed in front of the Bimat Elementary sign before heading to their classes early Wednesday morning.
They joined a crowd of beaming parents sending their children back to school after a long summer.
As some kids used the playground for the first time, more serious work was going on behind classroom doors.
“I think the most important thing that I have stressed to my teachers over the last couple of days has been ... building relationships with their students and parents,” said Bimat Principal Michele Bryant. “We know that when you do have a positive relationship with a student, then they are more successful, that they are learning.”
— Sam Morgen
When the cars are lined up down the street and there's nowhere to park, walking to school might be the best way to get to the first day of the school year at Discovery Elementary. Aleta Smith lives in a nearby neighborhood and was walking her son and daughter to school on Wednesday, when they would start the fourth and second grades, respectively.
"I'm excited for some free time," Smith said, adding that with a 3-year-old still at home she would still be pretty busy. "We just moved here last January from Illinois, but the kids really like the school. They like that everything is outside."
Helping them cross the street was crossing guard Rick Garner, who's been working at the school for three years.
"It's a great school," Garner said. "I knew about Discovery before I worked here. It always had a reputation of being a good school. The kids come out and wave at you. Everybody's happy."
Inside the school gates was Kristen Edwards overseeing the "Boohoo! Yahoo! Breakfast," where parents — whether they were happy or sad about sending their kids back to school — could grab a bagel, some yogurt and fruit before heading home or to work.
"I'm kind of torn," Edwards said of her children returning to school. "I'm glad they're going back because it's good for them, but I'm a little sad summer is over."
— Kelly Ardis
NEW CLOTHES, NEW FRIENDS
At Wayside Elementary School, one family's night of excitement was followed by temporary disappointment Wednesday morning.
Mother of two Jolyn Ward showed up at the Ming Avenue campus bright and early to drop off her daughter and son, Chloe and Ethan. But while Chloe successfully entered first grade, Ethan didn't quite make it into kindergarten because of incomplete paperwork.
It's a shame, Jolyn said, because both children had tried to go to bed early the night before in preparation for the start of school. They found sleeping difficult because they were looking forward to wearing new clothes and making new friends, she said.
"He's bummed," she said of Ethan. "His sister got to get in, but not him."
STUDENTS READY TO GO AT STIERN MIDDLE
Students at Stiern Middle School, "Home of the Sharks," poured onto the northeast Bakersfield campus, some talking and laughing with friends, some asking school officials where they were supposed to go and others entering their names on forms as they began the new school year.
Jerson Euceda, 10, walked with his mother — who was holding a younger sibling — toward the school entrance, filled with excitement he was about to begin another year.
Asked what he was looking forward to, Jerson said, "Math, my friends and playing with my friends."
Aaron Wright, 45, beginning his first year teaching history at Stiern, held a poster board sign that said "Stay Golden!" as he greeted arriving students.
He said the students didn't look as tired as he'd expected they'd be.
"The parents look more apprehensive," he said. "The kids looked ready to go."
— Jason Kotowski
A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION
The Bakersfield High School campus was busy with students lined up outside the gym and cafeteria to see where to go for their first classes. Outside the office, some parents and students waited for further assistance with registration, including first-year students ready for their first day of high school.
Sergio Gallardo, a freshman, was waiting in front of the office with his mom. He said he was not sure about what clubs and other activities he would be doing this year — the first step, he said, was "just finding my classes."
Another freshman, Sofia Pineda, was in line with her dad. She said she attended middle school in Culver City and was ready to meet people at her new high school. Pineda said her goal in the first few days was focusing on school and "trying to make a good first impression."
Around campus, returning students were reuniting with friends, greeting familiar staff and beginning a fresh start at BHS.
— Dakota Allen