Kids in the hall: Students start first day of school in Gwinnett

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Anthony Sabo woke up at 4:30 a.m. Monday.

Upon realizing what time it was, Anthony said he thought, "Nope, it's not time for school yet," and shut his eyes to get some more sleep.

Anthony was excited about his first day of fourth grade at Ferguson Elementary School, one of seven new schools that opened this year. A permanent facility also opened for the an existing school, the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology.

The new schools were built to relieve overcrowding in the state's largest school district. Nearly 161,000 students are expected to attend Gwinnett County Public Schools this year, an increase of about 1,600 from last year.

Ferguson had 800 students on the roll Thursday morning, principal Joe Ahrens said. But with more students registering on Thursday and families lined up to enroll Monday morning, Ahrens expected the number of students to grow to about 950.

After administrators announced the start of school -- the bell wasn't yet working -- children, many accompanied by their parents, walked to their classrooms. Several students had to ask for directions, and some needed school officials to help them figure out which class they would be in.

"It was a fabulous start. It was as busy as we expected it to be," Ahrens said. "We knew it was going to be busy, and we knew we were going to have kinks."

Opening a brand new school, Ahrens said, was the greatest feeling in the world. But he said the experience has also been one of the most challenging in his professional life.

"I never thought I could live on such little sleep," he said.

Earlier that morning at Lanier High School, principal Kerensa Wing stood in the front hallway and watched as students disembarked from their buses and poured into the school.

"It's great to have kids in the building," she said, "and we're excited about beginning to learn this year."

Sophomore Melanie Galvez said she was excited about seeing her friends again after the summer break. When she spotted her classmate Ashton Mathews, Galvez shrieked in elation and bolted down the hallway to hug Mathews.

"I'm excited, too," Mathews said. "I'm looking forward to making new friends, because a lot of my friends stayed at North (Gwinnett High School)."

Throughout the district, there were a couple of abnormal incidents Monday, GCPS spokeswoman Sloan Roach said. Grace Snell Middle School -- another new facility -- had to contend with a loss of electricity because of a power outage in the area. And Sweetwater Middle School locked down for about 30 minutes after a residential burglary was reported nearby.

Overall, Gwinnett County Public Schools is off to a great start, Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said.

"A lot of hard work goes into preparing for the school year, and I credit our teachers, principals and support staff with the extremely smooth start," he said. "As a district, we are looking forward to working with our parents and community to help make this one of the best years ever for Gwinnett students."