Nevaeh Wallace clammed up as soon as she laid eyes on Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu.
Neu greeted a group of Mark Twain Elementary School students Monday morning as they walked to their bus stop near the corner of NW 2 and Klein. All but Nevaeh, 8, said they were excited about the first day of school.
“Don’t be afraid. I’m your new superintendent,” Neu said. “Well, I’m excited for you for your first day. Is that fair? I can be excited for you?”
Then Neu asked the kids if he could ride the bus with them, and the girl broke her silence.
“You can sit with me,” she said.
At Mark Twain, Charlie Hicks, 9, and his mother walked the halls of the school looking for his fourth-grade classroom.
“My goodness. I think I’m actually more excited for him than he is,” the mother, Kim Corbit, joked.
Charlie greeted new teacher Jacqueline Bailey, eyed his new desk and put his Spider-man backpack in his new locker.
“Basically it’s the same thing (as third grade) but harder, and it’s a new year,” the boy said. “I want to learn a lot, but I’m not sure what I want to learn.”
Neu, who has been on the job since July 1, visited several schools Monday. He compared the first day of a new school year with moving into a new house.
Only this house holds about 46,000 students.
“It’s just a massive undertaking,” he said during a stop at Prairie Queen Elementary School. “Once you move in, you realize there’s more work to be done.”
Attendance is up at Prairie Queen, 6609 S Blackwelder Ave., where the number of parents who waited until the first day of school to enroll their children was down, Assistant Principal Stephanie Spears said.
“This is pretty light,” Spears said as she surveyed the collection of parents lining up in the school’s office.
“I think a lot of parents really want their kids in this school, so they’re really making sure they come on time and on the day of enrollment.”
The school has an enrollment of 771, school officials said.
Betsy Fernandez and daughter Mercedes Castillo, 10, a Prairie Queen fourth-grader, flashed smiles as they neared the school’s entrance.
“I’m excited about meeting my new teacher and getting an education,” Mercedes said.
Fernandez, a single mother of four, left no doubt about the importance of getting an education.
“Your education is your life, and without your education, it’s really hard to accomplish your goals and focus on the things you need to be focusing on,” she said.
Neu said he was “blown away” by the “infectious energy and excitement” at Prairie Queen and Mark Twain, which unveiled a new gym.
“The first day is always so exciting,” he said. “Kids are excited to meet their teacher, the staff are excited to see the kids, and, of course, the kids are excited to see their friends.”
‘Have to let him go’
The excitement of the first day of school was tempered with sadness for the parents of children attending school for the first time.
Mykila Schramm appeared anxious as she walked up the steps of Mark Twain, 2451 W Main, with son Dean Pershica, 4.
It is Dean’s first day of prekindergarten and he looked forward to eating breakfast and drawing.
Mom, on the other hand, wished time could stand still.
“He’s been with me every day since he was little, and now I kind of have to let him go off into the world, and that’s just scary for me,” Schramm said.
“But I’m excited for him because he’s going to have a good day ... make lots of friends ... learn lots of stuff.”
Down the hall, Jane White made her new third-graders feel right at home with one heartfelt embrace after another.
“It is so good to see you,” she said to one student.
“Welcome to my class.”
White, a veteran teacher, said her hugs are meant to make children feel safe and wanted.
“When they get that hug, they know that their teacher is sincere,” she said.
“They can tell if I mean it. It’s not a side hug. This is a sincere hug that says ‘I’m going to give all of me to you this year.’”
Neu sat down at a table with some third-graders in White’s classroom and sampled low-fat chocolate milk, a plum and something called a waffle biscuit.
“It’s actually good,” he said.
As for Nevaeh — the little girl who claimed she wasn’t excited about the first day of school — she had a change of heart.
“She reversed that decision on the bus ride,” Neu said.
“She admitted she was excited. And that her favorite subjects were spelling and reading.”
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