Wright Elementary second grader Dylan had good reason to be a little nervous Monday morning – his older sister told him second grade would be more challenging than first.

“I think third grade might be harder and fourth grade is definitely harder,” 7-year-old Dylan said to a group of friends that nodded along anxiously.

But on this day, fun was the immediate focus. To ease her students’ nerves, second grade teacher Georgina Farias asked them a few “would you rather?” questions.

Video games or playing outside? Hands shot up for both options.

Whataburger or McDonald’s? A few voiced their support for McDonald’s, but the vast majority of the class – including Harlandale ISD Interim Superintendent Samantha Gallegos, who was visiting for the first day of school – stood firmly in the Whataburger camp.

Harlandale ISD interim Superintendent Samantha Gallegos chats with students on their first day of second grade.

Monday was the first day of the 2019-20 school year for Harlandale students and most San Antonio children who had not already returned to class. Harlandale, Northside, Somerset, and Southwest ISD schools resumed classes. Comal ISD students return to campus Tuesday to complete back to school for San Antonio area public school students.

Early Monday morning, teachers lined the front steps outside Wright Elementary, a school on San Antonio’s South Side near San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. Educators waved red and white pompoms to welcome families as they streamed through the doors. Songs from the Jackson 5 blasted from a speaker.

Principal Griselda Raley stood among the teachers, greeting students on their way in.

“This was a little more hyped up than your normal day here,” Raley said, adding that the school always plays music outside for arrival and dismissal to foster a celebratory mood. “Pompoms are not our normal routine, though. Some kids might start expecting them.”

Raley walked her daughter Reagan to Farias’ second grade classroom before breakfast began for students.

Jaclyn Bañuelos works with her new fourth grade students on the first day of school at Harlandale ISD’s Wright Elementary.

Farias passed out baked goods, bananas – some of which a few students voluntarily accepted – and milk. Most of the class preferred chocolate milk.

Anevay, 7, opted for white milk. Dressed in a hot pink sweatshirt and seated at a chair with a rainbow and unicorn backpack slung across the back, Anevay excitedly proclaimed she liked school but already missed summer.

While all said they would miss summer break, each had a reason to look forward to the new year.

“I’m excited for lunch because it’s my favorite subject. Does that count?” Anevay said, hoping that her school would serve beef crispy tacos sometime this week.

Down the hallway and through two sets of double doors, Jaclyn Bañuelos’ fourth grade class started the year with an ice breaker. Students stood in a circle with each fourth grader linked to one another gripping opposite ends of a pencil.

While connected, each student maneuvered a hula hoop up their arm, over their heads, between their legs, and onto the next student.

Wearing shoes painted like yellow No. 2 pencils, Bañuelos encouraged the group.

“When we started, you all didn’t think we could do this, did you?” Bañuelos said. “But look how when you work together, it was so much easier than you thought.”

Jorge, 10, works with his classmates in a group activity to pass a hula hoop from one person to the other without using their hands.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.