CORONA DEL MAR — Six-year-old Kate Thomas has watched her sister, Ellie, 9, with some envy over the past three years.
Each September that rolls around means fresh pencils and crayons, a smattering of new keychains for a fancy backpack and all the new friends that come with another school year.
This year, finally, it was Kate's turn.
"It's bittersweet," said Kate's mother, Robin Thomas, on Tuesday, the first day of public school.
The pair held hands as they dropped Ellie off at her fourth-grade classroom at Harbor View Elementary. Next stop: Kate's kindergarten classroom.
"You know what's coming, and you just want to enjoy them being kids," Thomas said.
Kate will have the same kindergarten teacher her sister had three years prior, which should help ease the transition for both mother and daughter.
Although, as any parent who's been through the Big First Day knows, there's no stopping the sudden pang of nerves that come with letting go for the first time.
"It's a little emotional for everyone," said Christine Hill, Harbor View resource specialist program teacher, "but it's a brand-new year, and everyone's excited. Even if they've been here before, they're excited like it's the first time."
Hill would take a post in one of the school's designated parking lot drop-off zones all week, directing the stop-and-go traffic of anxious parents.
What most parents don't see — and what likely worries them the most — is what happens after they drive away.
"The teachers are just so prepared," particularly the kindergarten teachers, Hill said. "They know what they're doing. They've had so many children come through and be successful in their classrooms."
Most teachers spend a good chunk of time on the first day just helping the students get to know each other, Hill said.
The students play interactive games, draw pictures and are encouraged to talk about themselves to the class.
"[The children] come in as babies and [the teachers are] making them into students," Hill said. "They do a fantastic job at it each year."
Harbor View has 460 students enrolled for the 2010-11 school year, confirmed Laura Boss, director of communications for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.
Although exact numbers are not yet available, Boss said that student-to-teacher ratios districtwide average around 25 to 1 in elementary schools and 31 to 1 in secondary schools.
By 8:30 a.m., the first morning classes had already begun.
Children were deposited at their new desks for a fresh year, teachers penned warm welcome messages on clean whiteboards and parents meandered back to the parking lot.
"It's my baby," Thomas said, giving a last fix to the arrangement of keychains on Kate's backpack. "I'm hoping not to get upset, but when I walk away I probably will."