COLUMBIA - Addie and Jami Dietz were so excited to be back at school that they couldn't help but burst into song. Now starting second grade and kindergarten at Russell Boulevard Elementary, the blond sisters cannot wait to start classes Thursday.
Tuesday afternoon, the Dietz sisters joined their classmates at Russell Boulevard Elementary's Sneak Peek, where they could meet their teachers and refamiliarize themselves with the school's twists and turns while parents talked to the administration about plans for the upcoming year.
Addie is looking forward to everything about second grade, especially because second-graders "get to make 3-D things, like a house" out of construction paper in art class. She is also excited to participate in the school's opera, a program that will be continued even though the school has a new music teacher.
Russell Elementary is entering its 50th year and has a Western-themed celebration planned for October. Principal Ed Schumacher was greeting students in a cowboy hat, already in the Western spirit.
School staff are also thrilled about the building's new air conditioning system. Lynn Barnett, assistant superintendent for student support services with Columbia Public Schools, said that like most years, the district will pay particular attention to the weather as classes begin. While five schools got air conditioners installed for the first time over the summer, eight will still be without on Thursday.
Barnett said preparations for the start of school will continue up until the minute kids get to their classes.
"We never have enough time in the summer to get everything done that we need to get done," said Barnett.
The school district will also keep close tabs on transportation, which has historically been the most frustrating part of the start of the school year for parents, Barnett said.
Bill Lehman, contract manager for First Student, the company that provides school bus services for Columbia Public Schools, said parents should make sure their children have identification on them on the first day of classes. Without it, bus drivers will have more difficulty getting kids, especially shy ones who might not want speak to drivers, back home on time.
Lehman said with the reduction in the number of bus routes from 142 to 140 this year, some bus drivers will be dealing with increased passenger loads on Thursday.
The school district is also expecting an increased number of elementary students this year, which stood at 8,174 students last year, but a decline in overall enrollment in secondary students from the 9,012 students enrolled last year, Barnett said.
At Russell's Sneak Peek, the gymnasium was so busy that the floor could barely be seen under all the feet. The air was full of kids laughing and shouting to one another as parents shook hands and got reacquainted with each other after the long summer.
Principal Schumacher called Russell Elementary "the most friendly school you will find."