A portion of Tuolumne County schools began classes on Tuesday and administrators all agreed that an atmosphere of optimism and zeal descended on their campuses right at the ring of the morning bell.

Sonora Union High School District Superintendent Pat Chabot said that while he walked through the Sonora High School campus during the first lunch of the school year, he was able to catch up with a few students from the previous term.

“They were upbeat and jazzed,” he said. “It was a great day.”

And though the first day of school is characteristic of a few common cliches such as stylish first-day outfits, updated class materials and a reconnection with familiar students and staff, the 2017-18 school year didn’t start without some surprises.

Big Oak Flat-Groveland superintendent Dave Urquhart said that Don Pedro High School junior Kaylee Chandler showed up to her first day riding atop some “throwback transportation,” her horse Harley.

“She wanted to ride her horse to school today so we thought, why not?” Urquhart said, adding that she is involved in the campus agriculture program and has experience with tending to the animals.

After getting approval to ride the horse, a portable pen was set up on the campus for Harley while Chandler was in classes, Urquhart said. And since Chandler’s ride proved itself to be so capable, he said, she planned to ride the horse again to school tomorrow.

“It worked out fine today. As long as it works out we’ll continue to let her do it,” he said.
At Sonora High School, Don Pedro High School and Tioga High School, the first day of school was met with joyful anticipation and an introduction to an advanced set of curriculum which will dictate the content of the coming year.

At Sonora High School, an assembly featuring a speaker “with a disability and how he overcame it” left the students both “overwhelmed” and “inspired,” Chabot said.

A “good campus feeling” was fostered by upperclassmen who were “amazed” that construction projects on the Humanities Building and the Aquatic Center were finally completed, Chabot added, and students were given textbooks and Chromebooks after a refresher course on school rules.

“It went fantastic. We had a great time. Almost everybody showed up,” he said.

Urquhart said that Don Pedro and Tioga High Schools also had a “great start” with a “few more students that we expected” attending the first day, “which is always nice.”

Tuolumne County elementary schools also registered a positive and animated first day, even with the absence any unexpected equine visitors.

And for the administrators, the lack of surprises was welcome. Most registered that besides the “fun” aspect of reconnecting with parents and students, the first day is probably one of the most busy.

Sonora Elementary School Principal Chris Boyles said that he had been running around all day, organizing legions of new students and making sure the summer-to-fall transition was going smoothly.

“It was great to see the kids again, it great to see the new faces in all the levels,” he said. “We are pretty proud of what we do here and we are just continuing that.”

Along with the continued institution of new standards from the previous school year, the first day marked beginning of a “mindfulness” theme among students and staff, he said.

The campus program was intended to maintain “positive student behavior and get students connected not to just how they feel themselves but also their peers,” he said.

Soulsbyville Elementary School Superintendent Jeff Winfield described the day as “typical,” with “parents and grandparents bringing kids on their first day.”

The business of the first day schedule was not lost on the students either, he added, while “most kids really happy being back into this routine, their bodies weren't ready” for a full day of education and reconnection.

“I think most people are going to sleep good tonight,” he said. “Teachers included.”

Jamestown Elementary School Superintendent Contessa Pelfrey said that the first day passed smoothly “in terms of how everyone came in really positive.”

“It went awesome. Everyone was happy and excited to be back,” she said. “Overall, all the students I had spoken with were really excited to be back.”

During the first day, Jamestown Elementary School held a welcome assembly for the students and also recapped school rules, she said.

Curtis Creek Elementary School students were wowed by the concrete walkway to temporary portables, passing the now absent space where the fire damaged building used to be, Curtis Creek Superintendent Sharon Johnson wrote in an email.

Students and parents were calm, she added, and adhered to the student drop off and dismissal system that was put in place after the fire.

“Curtis Creek School staff and students are excited for the beginning of this new year. Our motto will be ‘Grit and perseverance makes me smart!’” she said.

Each of the county schools also dealt with the annual acclimation of new students into their midst, some of whom moved from new counties, as well as the annual influx of new kindergarten students.

Urquhart said that a few new students would be attending Don Pedro High School out of Mariposa County in the coming year, since the school was relatively near to the county line.

“It's really a geographic issue for a lot of them,” he said.

Winfield said that there were “quite a few newer family and students in the district,” but their transition was eased by a back-to-school event that took place last Thursday.

“It made it a lot easier cause a lot of people knew what to do,” he said.

At Jamestown Elementary, the “new faces” coming into the district were offered a welcoming introduction to their peers, Pelfrey said.

“We made a real effort to introduce them to some peers so they had some connections going into class,” she said. “The primary teachers do a really good job of making sure everyone is welcome.”

The California Highway Patrol - Sonora area, also increased their presence in the school areas to enforce school bus pedestrian safety, said Public Information Office Faustino Pulido.

On Aug. 24, the CHP will conduct an enforcement operation “focusing on motorists who fail to stop for a school bus with its flashing red lights and stop arm extended” throughout Tuolumne County, a CHP news release said.

During the enforcement operation, CHP officers will ride as passengers on the school buses and communicate with CHP officers in vehicles nearby. If a driver illegally passes a bus, the CHP bus passenger will notify the patrol, who will stop the driver and issue either a warning or traffic citation, the news release said.

While a school bus flashes red lights, drivers must stop from either direction until children safely cross the street and the lights stop flashing, or a motorist can be fined up to $1,000 and have their driving privilege suspended for up to one year.

Summerville High School, Summerville Elementary School, Columbia Elementary School, Belleview Elementary School, Twain Harte School and Connections Academy all start classes Wednesday morning.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.