DOUGLAS BUell/Staff Photos 
                                Students on their first day back to Eagle Creek Elementary School were joined Wednesday by a couple of distinguished bus riders, Arlington Mayor Barb Tolbert and School District Superintendent Chrys Sweeting, in the second row; below left, welcome back hug for a student; mayor and superintendent chat with kids about what they did over the summer.

DOUGLAS BUell/Staff Photos Students on their first day back to Eagle Creek Elementary School were joined Wednesday by a couple of distinguished bus riders, Arlington Mayor Barb Tolbert and School District Superintendent Chrys Sweeting, in the second row; below left, welcome back hug for a student; mayor and superintendent chat with kids about what they did over the summer.

First day of school: Excitement in air

ARLINGTON – If the smiles and loud summer vacation chatter that filled an Eagle Creek Elementary School bus for the first day of school are any sign, it’s going to be an exciting year.

Students across the Arlington School District headed back to school Wednesday morning.

Like their counterparts, the 20 or so Eagle Creek children took their seats on the ride through Arlington Heights eager to reunite with friends, ready to learn and many still dressed in shorts as a holdover of the summer soon to end.

At the first stop, the kids stood single file to board the bus and said goodbyes to happy parents. The students were welcomed aboard by longtime bus driver Staci Mueller, thrilled again to see the friendly woman who knew them by name.

Fifth grader Lily Norris rode the bus with her sister Grace, starting the fourth grade, and second-grader Emma.

Lily is excited about the new school year and “seeing my friends.”

She said most of the kids on the bus know each other.

As to what she was looking forward to most, Grace answered, “Learning. More math.”

They said they had fun this summer swimming in Jordan Creek near their home.

Fourth-grader Calum Lindsey said he is excited to get back to school, especially the gym.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do in PE; it’s a surprise, but I hope it’s dodgeball,” he said, talking while he wore headphones and listened to music.

Other bus riders went to summer camp, visited relatives and went on trips.

Mueller wasn’t the only adult on the bus.

Two “un-school age” surprise visitors waiting in the high-back green seats got odd looks when students walked down the bus aisle, but were put at ease when they learned it was Mayor Barb Tolbert and Arlington Schools Superintendent Chrys Sweeting there to welcome them.

They talked to as many kids as they could, asking what they did over the summer. When one student said they went to summer camp, true to form with Sweeting’s regular Student Voices lunches, she asked, “What did you learn?”

This was the superintendent’s first year taking a first-day-of-school bus ride to connect with kids.

“The important thing for us to do is connect with the kids and learn what they are excited about,” Sweeting said. “But also it’s to hear what they did for the summer.”

Tolbert said she was happy to see that the kids are excited to go back to school, and she loves seeing the parents’ reactions when sending them off.

“It makes me remember what it was like when we were in school,” she said. “The excitement of that first day and everyone cheering the kids on.”

Sweeting said that’s what educators hope for.

“That they had a good summer, and they’re ready to go back to school and learn,” she said. “Some of them went to summer school, too, and they learned a lot.”

Sweeting praised Mueller and the district’s bus driving crew for how welcoming they are to the students. “I would imagine that makes the kids feel comfortable. Especially for new students, that first day of school can be scary.”

Mueller, who has been a bus driver for 17 years, including 10 in Arlington, said she likes that the routes the drivers start the school year with are the ones they end with. That’s comforting for the kids and getting to know them better.

“My things is, and it has always been, once you’re on my bus, you’re my kid,” she said.

“I’m going to look out for you if you need help in any way,” Mueller said. “Most of the drivers feel that way. If you get in trouble, I have your back.”

Student gets a welcome back hug.

Student gets a welcome back hug.

Mayor and superintendent chat with kids about what they did over the summer.

Mayor and superintendent chat with kids about what they did over the summer.

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