COLUMBIA — Today, Jennifer Wingert got up at 5:15 a.m., took her dogs for a walk, ate yogurt for breakfast and put on her new first-day-of-school black dress.
“I don’t wear white often,” Wingert said. She has good reason. Wingert teaches first grade at Grant Elementary School.
As monitor of before-school recess Thursday morning, she was one of the first teachers to welcome students back to school. Wingert said she feels she's welcoming the students home.
“I know 98 percent of the students' names,” she said.
Wingert has worked in various positions, including assistant principal and fifth-grade teacher, for the past seven years at Grant. She also worked with many of the incoming students over the summer.
Wingert decorated her classroom with colorful posters, and the picture book “Owen” by Kevin Henkes sits in the reading nook. Owen is a mouse who likes to carry a yellow blanket. Wingert read the book to her students and then distributed pieces of yellow fabric for each child to decorate and keep.
Wingert explained that on the first day and throughout the year, the children can reassure themselves by holding their piece of cloth.
“It’s really private, and no one can make fun of it,” Wingert said. She even keeps a piece of the fabric at her desk.
In Grant's opposite wing, counselor Kate Weir started school with a breakfast group. This year, she will offer a class called Counselor to teach students social skills and community building.
“To be successful ... we must all feel comfortable, positive and safe,” Weir said, adding that she's looking forward to the school year. “I feel really excited. It’s like reuniting with your family,” Weir said.
Terry Dorman, Grant's head custodian, shared Weir’s excitement. His crew has been hard at work clearing hallways and moving teachers into classrooms.
“My No. 1 goal is (to get the school ready) for when the students come in,” Dorman said.
Randall Simmons dropped his daughter Mia Simmons, 5, off for her first day of kindergarten. Mia, a bubbly blonde in a pink T-shirt, nibbled on a strawberry Pop Tart while waiting for the bell. Mia said she was excited to learn her ABCs and came to school with her Rapunzel Barbie doll and her fuzzy blanket.
This is Simmons' first child to start school. "I was pretty nervous, but as confident as she is and as well as she does taking care of herself, that helped a lot," Simmons said. "Especially remembering her lunch number."
Marquezz "Quezz" Holmes, 5, also started his first day of kindergarten at Grant. His grandfather, Eddie Holmes, was there to see him off.
"I enjoy dropping Quezz off at school," Holmes said. "I'm just happy to be able to be here with him on his first day."
Marquezz, dressed in an orange polo shirt and plaid shorts, was a bit anxious.
"(Starting school is) very, very scary," Marquezz said. But looking around at the bustling playground, Marquezz agreed everything would be OK.
It wasn't just the kindergarteners who were experiencing a first at Grant on Thursday. Kris Matthews was also starting her first year as principal.
“I’m looking forward to the buses rolling up and to seeing the parents as they drop off the children,” Matthews said.
“I'm looking forward to becoming part of the Grant family.”