WESLEY CHAPEL — Third-grader Janessa Barber had her apprehensions about heading back to school on Monday.
"It's a new school," Janessa, 9, said as she sat outside Veterans Elementary with her mom and brother, waiting for the doors to open. "You get used to your old school. Then, when you leave your old school and go to a new school, you feel uncomfortable."
Her mom harbored no such concerns about moving her daughter from Seven Oaks Elementary.
"I like this school because it is close to home," said Jeanette Rivera, who also was dropping off 5-year-old Mike for his first day of kindergarten. "I just feel safer here because it's closer."
That was a common refrain at Pasco's newest elementary school, just a short distance from Lexington Oaks subdivision on State Road 54. Children and parents were happy to be back to classes after a summer away, and thrilled they didn't have to go so far to get there.
"My oldest ones have already gone to two elementary schools," said Rachel Havemann, also an instructional assistant at Veterans. "This one is our neighborhood school. This is it."
Nearly 63,000 students showed up for classes across the county in a first day that went essentially problem-free.
Buses arrived on time in the morning, with the most serious concern being one that bumped a basketball pole on the way to Giella Elementary. The afternoon rides home went off without any reported delays.
"It's been a very quiet day. Wonderful things are going on," said superintendent Heather Fiorentino, who deemed the district's first day "very smooth."
The big attention-getter around midday was Tropical Storm Fay, and how it might affect today.
"That's one student we don't want this year," Fiorentino said.
At Ridgewood High, the activity was par for the course. Teens showed up, some without schedules, and the guidance staff stepped in to help.
"What's your student number, hon?" registrar Donna Leonard asked senior Sarah Showver before printing off a new schedule. Then, "Have a great day. You're going to love it."
"This is what I do," Leonard said. "It's the first day. It's busy. We have a bunch of ninth-graders who are coming in who don't know their schedules. Don't know where their classes are."
Then there were the other new kids, like junior Kiersten MacIntire, who was dressed in way cool black and white plaid pants and feeling nervous as she picked up her class schedule.
"I'm going to get lost," she said.
Not a problem, said Leonard, who asked senior Bridget Bellanger to guide Kiersten to her first class.
"Don't worry," Leonard said. "If you have any problems or no one to sit with at lunch, just come back up here."
The issues over at Veterans Elementary were routine, too.
The school had its share of camera moments, tears and cheers.
Ruby Cardoza admitted to being "scared" sending her twin boys, Anthony and Leo, to kindergarten.
"It's their first day in the real world," Cardoza said, biting her nails. "They'll be fine. It's me."
One little kindergartner escaped his classroom when some parents opened the heavy doors. He ran down the walkway, crying and shouting for his parents. "I had a feeling he was going to do that," said the boy's dad, who quickly jogged to his shrieking son.
For her own part, Janessa worked quickly to make herself feel more at home.
She arrived first in Lisa Cartier's classroom and grabbed her chair.
"I love sitting in front," said the 9-year-old, who wore her new pink Hello Kitty outfit, sparkling necklace and big backpack. "Who am I sitting by? I don't know a thing about any of them."
She looked around, checking things out, and then settled in to do an introductory art project.
School had officially begun.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.