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Happiness, nervousness highlight emotional first day for Burbank Unified

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Liam, 8, and Maisie Kolpek, 5, walk hand-in-hand with their parents, Kristofer and Erin, on their way to the first day of classes at Bret Harte Elementary School on Monday.
(Tim Berger/Burbank Leader)

A mix of tears and joy, anxiety and excitement swept through many of the 11 elementary, three middle and two high schools during Burbank Unified’s first day of school on Monday morning.

Roughly 15,000 students returned to classrooms for the 2019-20 school year, with campuses holding various welcoming activities.

Oscar Macias, Luther Burbank Middle School’s principal , lined up teachers and staff to applaud students as they walked to their classrooms, while Molly Hwang, principal at Disney Elementary, hosted a “Welcome Back Coffee” for parents.

It was the sixth consecutive first day of school at Bret Harte Elementary for principal Martha Walter, who unlocked gates along North Lima and Ontario streets for parents and students.

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In addition to her many duties, Walter also welcomed a new group of students to the school’s language-enriched autism program, or LEAP, with 18 students in two classrooms.

“They expect me to be everywhere all at the same time,” Walter said with a smile. “I don’t get a lot of questions on the first day because emotions are just so high.”

Yadira Navarrete patiently waited along North Ontario Street with her son Aidan, 5, who was beginning kindergarten after attending a preschool.

“I’m super excited, but a little worried for him,” Navarrete said. “It’s a new school, and he’ll have new friends, and we’ll see how he does.”

As the duo entered Bret Harte’s campus, they passed a series of photo and selfie stands lined with blue-and-yellow backdrops, consistent with the school’s colors, and mini pennants with phrases such as “first day” and “first grade.”

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Parents and students gathered at the school’s blacktop area in the middle of campus before walking into class, grade by grade, starting with kindergarten.

Mason Haynes waited calmly before escorting his 6-year-old son, Fitz, into first grade at Harte.

“I’m a little nervous, but it’s good because he’s excited to be back, and he’s excited to see familiar faces,” Haynes said.

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Albert, 5, and Emmet Billingsley, 8, and Savannah Morris, 6, pose at a photo-op station on the first day of school at Bret Harte Elementary School in Burbank on Monday.
(Tim Berger/Burbank Leader)

The only first-day aspect slightly off-putting for Haynes was the early start because neighboring Los Angeles Unified returns to school Aug. 20, followed the next day by Glendale Unified.

“We just moved here from Texas a little over a year ago, so we’re usually closer to Labor Day there,” Haynes said. “It’s a little early, about a week [earlier] than normal, but I don’t know, maybe it’s for the better, and he was ready to go back to school.”

Although Dahlia Dobbertin, a 21-year veteran with the district, is no stranger to first days, the Harte first-grade teacher admitted she still felt nervous.

“There’s no such thing as getting ‘used to this,’” Dobbertin said. “You see first-day jitters from parents, teachers and students. We try our best as teachers to make everyone feel comfortable.”

Dobbertin said she spent three weeks preparing her classroom for her students, who arrived to find bottles of water, tissue boxes, supplies, workbooks and other materials.

“Right now, I have about 20 students, but I don’t expect that to be the final total,” Dobbertin said. “I’m sure I’ll have at least a couple of late additions.”

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Harte parents who stuck around after the start of class were invited to the school’s annual “Boo Hoo/Woo Hoo” event, in which guardians gathered in the school’s library to lament or celebrate the start of another year with pastries and coffee.

Though hectic, Monday was a success for Harte and Walter.

“Plan, organize, smile a lot,” Walter said, regarding her secret to success as a principal. “And wear comfortable shoes.”

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