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Glendale Unified kicks off first day of school in style

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Kindergartner Darby Jones, 5, poses for a photo on the first day of school for Glendale Unified School District at Mark Keppel Visual and Performing Arts Magnet in Glendale on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa/Glendale News-Press)

Red carpets and yellow buttons, lollipops and hugs, excitement and some anxiety mixed like a bright bouquet on the first day of classes for the Glendale Unified School District on Wednesday morning.

Approximately 26,000 students and 3,500 employees returned to the district’s 32 campuses 71 days after local high school graduations in June.

Glenwood Road, where Hoover High School, Toll Middle School and Mark Keppel Elementary School are located and separated by less than 100 yards, served as the day’s celebration nexus.

Students and parents from those schools entered their respective campuses, which were filled with festivities and activities. Even Clark Magnet High students were present as they waited for school buses in front of Toll to take them to Clark Magnet.

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Wednesday marked plenty of firsts, including for Jennifer Freemon as the new school board president on opening day, and for Vivian Ekchian, the district’s new superintendent.

“This is fantastic and we’re just as excited for the school year as the students,” Freemon said. “We want to start the year with all the positive energy possible.”

Ekchian spruced up the experience by encouraging every campus to roll out red carpets — literally.

“This is a special day, and I thought the red carpet would demonstrate that,” she said.

Ekchian toured schools over the summer, but Wednesday’s experience included a firsthand look at students arriving at their schools.

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“I’ve been looking forward to this day, to see kids coming to school with great excitement to learn and continue their aspirational goals,” Ekchian said.

Students and parents at Keppel enjoyed selfie and photo stations.

Parents Patrick and Jennifer Kim arrived before 7:30 a.m. to grab photos with their daughter, Cali, who was entering kindergarten.

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Hoover High School principal Jennifer Earl gets high-fives from a line of cheerleaders on the first day of school for Glendale Unified School District on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa/Glendale News-Press)

“I’m scared, but I’m excited for [Cali], too,” Jennifer Kim said. “She’s actually adjusting better to this than we are.”

“The fact that she’s super excited about going to school, I’m very happy about that,” Patrick Kim said.

Maybe no school was more relieved to turn the page than Hoover High, which saw its reputation take a hit after a student brawl at the school last year.

Ten months later, the campus was teeming with spirit and enthusiasm as students entered to music played by the school’s award-winning band, encouragement and clapping by its cheerleaders and pep squad and candy given away by administrators.

“We’re really focused on showing everybody who we are,” said Hoover principal Jennifer Earl, attending her 10th first day at the school. “The kids are united, and we’re going to show everyone we are Hoover, and this is an extremely special place to be.”

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Several campuses also welcomed another group of students back — alumni.

Many wore yellow buttons with the phrase “Glendale Unified Graduate,” including Hoover High 2013 alumna Hazel Handan.

The Franklin Elementary, Toll Middle and UCLA graduate found herself back at Hoover, thanks to a deep connection with the school.

“This is my second home, this is my community and this is where I became who I am,” said Handan, whose sister, Allison, just graduated from Hoover. “This school harbored a very positive environment for me, and you need a whole village to help every student, so I’m here.”

The district’s overall positive message worked for at least one person.

Incoming ninth-grader Vanya Arakelian is the type of student the district has being wooing as it deals with declining enrollment.

The Glendale resident attended a private school, St. Gregory A. & M. Hovsepian in Pasadena, until eighth grade before being persuaded to enroll in the local public district at Clark Magnet.

“I’m excited and a little bit nervous because this is high school,” Arakelian said. “I’ve heard good things about Clark from a friend, who pushed me to come here, and I thought it was time for something different.”

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