Five-year-old Shane Pearsall skipped the three blocks Monday morning from McKinley Avenue to his kindergarten classroom at Fremont Elementary in central Fresno.
"You'd better slow down a little bit," his grandmother, Judith Sampson, warned. "You're going to be tired before you even get to class."
Shane, dressed in shorts and T-shirt for his first day of school, slowed down for a few steps and then resumed skipping.
Sampson smiled. "He's very excited," she said. "He's been waiting for this for weeks."
But once at the school gate, Shane paused. The new kindergartner looked around at the other students streaming onto the campus, turned to his grandmother and grabbed her hand.
There was excitement and trepidation Monday for the more than 110,000 Valley students who started the fall term at Fresno and Clovis unified schools. The beginning of the new school year also means thousands of parents will have just weeks to get their children immunized for whooping cough before a state-mandated deadline.
Fresno and Clovis school district students were among the last in the central San Joaquin Valley to start the school year. Students at California State University, Fresno, also started a new semester Monday.
Here is a look at how the first day of school went around the metropolitan area:
- Tradition continues: Clovis Unified started its year with a bell-ringing ceremony at Jefferson Elementary School. For 127 years the Victory Bell has rung in the start of the fall term at the district. The bell is dedicated to Jake Smith, who served as principal of Jefferson Elementary for 28 years.
"It's a fun way to start the year," said Kelly Avants, spokeswoman for Clovis Unified.
- Distinguished greeter: At Fresno High School in central Fresno, teens rushed to make it through the campus' purple iron gate before the first bell. Just outside, Fresno High Principal Adrian Palazuelos shook each student's hand and introduced himself.
A steady stream of students and parents peppered Palazuelos with questions – from directions to the nurse's office to drop off a prescription to delaying enrollment or simply asking if it was too late to get on campus and go to class.
Arriving students who weren't registered yet for school were directed to an ad-hoc office near the campus entrance, where staff helped guide parents through the enrollment process in English, Hmong and Spanish.
Every year at Fresno High about a dozen students enroll on the first day of classes.
"It's been in the news for the last few days that school is starting – and that's good," Palazuelos said. "It helps to let parents know they need to come in and get their kids registered."
- Get immunized: The start of the new term brings a looming deadline to comply with a new state law requiring every middle and high school student in the state to get a whooping cough booster within 30 days.
Fresno and Clovis unified students who don't have the booster will be barred from classes starting Sept. 22.
Fresno Unified officials said only 34% of the district's students have provided proof of the booster, despite an eight-month campaign by the district to get word out about the new law.
But district spokeswoman Susan Bedi was optimistic, saying the number of visits to the district's mobile health unit have increased in recent weeks and district health staff still are processing shot records.
"We may have a better idea next week," she said.
Fresno Unified also will hold two more immunization clinics in September.
In Clovis Unified, compliance was "a little over 80%" with some records still waiting for processing, Avants said.
- Familiar grind: At Buchanan High's final bell, students streamed into the parking lot in search of parents waiting in cars. Sophomores Neel Balakrishnan, Taylor Lotspiech and Sierra Martinez slowly made their way off campus.
The three said they weren't too excited about being back in school.
"Summer was way too short," Taylor said.
Freshman Sean McPhearson, though, said he was ready to get back into class.
"It was good to see my friends again," he said.
No major problems were reported at either of the districts throughout the day.
"It's all been good," Bedi said. "The first day went really smooth."