COLUMBIA — Nearly an hour before class started, 10-year-old Erneisha Dorema sat on a bench outside a quiet West Boulevard Elementary School, waiting for the doors to open.
“It’s better to be here early because you get to class quicker, and you think about how fifth grade’s gonna be,” she said.
Erneisha anticipated this year would be pretty tough, especially science.
“Sometimes, you have to go outside and be in mud, and I don’t really like mud,” she said, kicking her white tennis shoe on the sidewalk.
Even so, she was confident she could work through it.
Erneisha is one of thousands of students who started public school in Columbia on Thursday. The district was still enrolling students Thursday morning, but numbers appeared to be higher than last year’s first-day count, which was 17,558. The total enrollment in 2010-2011 was 17,550, Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said.
A few buses were delayed Thursday morning because of a non bus-related accident on Route K. Otherwise, things ran smoothly, Baumstark said.
At Russell Boulevard Elementary, Principal Edward Schumaker greeted students at the door, wearing a dust-colored pith safari hat. This year’s theme is “jungle,” and cardboard animal stand-ups dotted the gardens around the school.
Schumaker pointed to a cardboard lion rising from a clump of monkey grass beside the school’s front entrance. “That one looks real,” he said, “from a distance.”
For fourth-grader Willow Masters, the jungle was her first introduction to Russell Elementary. She stood out from the crowd of students because of her colorful dress. Willow was nervous since she has changed schools multiple times, but she was sure she would make new friends at Russell.
“I did it at my old school, and I can do it here,” she said.
At Rock Bridge Elementary, Melissa DeLap was one of the first parents to arrive. Her two sons, Michael, 9, and Joshua, 7, smiled for a photo as they leaned against the school sign on the front lawn.
"They were up before 7 and actually dressed for the first time," DeLap said.
The boys have been attending Rock Bridge since kindergarten and will be entering the fourth and second grades this year.
Michael was most excited about, "seeing my friends again — and doing science." Joshua nodded in agreement, shaking his Spiderman lunchbox that matched his new backpack.
At Derby Ridge Elementary School, students had similar goals for the year.
Chase Blotzer, 6, said he wants to learn "how to have fun and how to learn a lot" as a first-grader. “And reading a lot.”
His mother, Amy Blotzer, had different ambitions for Chase and his brother.
"Chase wants to learn how to read further than what he already knows,” Blotzer said. “They’re both really good in math, so I would say probably their reading and their handwriting.”
Even so, Chase’s older brother, Jake, 8, had his own goals for second grade.
“Learn about animals, like snails and fish,” he said. “A gecko, too.”