'Happy to be back'
Tramway Elementary School started back on Wednesday, and only one person was spotted crying — a child whose older sister got to go to school without him.
"Those were the only tears I saw, because he couldn't come," Assistant Principal Andrea Sloan said.
One parent who was there around noon to pick up her new kindergarten student explained why she, at least, didn't have tears earlier in the morning.
"I told her, "You're reaching a new beginning, so go and have fun,'" Tiwana Cole said she told her daughter, Aubrey. "I don't look at it as something sad."
Cole said she also has a second-grade student at Tramway, who was picking on her little sister by talking about the homework she was going to get. But she said she wants her youngest daughter to focus on the experience of just being in school, with new people and new things to learn.
"It was a new adventure," she said of the first day. "She was so excited. I told her to have a good day and have fun. She was a little nervous, but it was exciting, too. She was excited."
Principal Anne Beal said the excitement surrounding this school year has actually been one of the highest levels she has ever experienced. She couldn't pinpoint exactly why, although it did help that there were no bumps Wednesday or in the days leading up to the new year.
"It's been great," Beal said. "Everyone has seemed really happy to be back."
The county's only year-round school, Tramway is also one of the biggest schools in the county, with 703 students as of Wednesday. That's an increase of 17 students from last year, nearly a whole class worth of children. Beal said the school is at capacity, and still some children weren't accepted from the waiting list. She said if any children withdraw, parents on the waiting list will begin being informed that a space has opened up. The school is open to anyone who lives in Lee County, and much of the county is covered by bus service as well.
School officials elicited controversy a year ago when they proposed changing all elementary and middle schools to the year-round schedule that Tramway uses, with four nine-week periods followed by three-week vacations, instead of two semesters bookended by long vacations. The proposal eventually was abandoned after community outcry and protests.
But Beal said Tramway's popularity is proof that many teachers and parents prefer the year-round schedule over a traditional one, and Cole said she just hopes the school district turns at least one middle school into a year-round one by the time her daughters leave Tramway.
Andy Bryan, superintendent of Lee County Schools, visited Tramway early Wednesday and said the school had a "great" first day. As for creating a second year-round school locally, he said, the Lee County Board of Education is waiting to see what kind of grassroots support exists to expand the idea beyond just Tramway, or to create other proposals like magnet school programs.
"I think our board has taken the stance that that discussion should start at the [individual school] level," Bryan said. "... And not just year-round, but any specific theme, like STEM, for example."
The start date for traditional Lee County Schools is Aug. 25.