ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – About 43,000 students returned to classrooms in St. Johns County on Wednesday morning.
News4JAX visited three schools in the fast-growing district, and one of the common sights was long lines of traffic. People trying to get into Creekside High School dropped their students off as well as figured out what needs to happen throughout the course of the first day. But there were also plenty of smiling faces and friends excited to see each other again as they started another school year.
It was a new experience and a new beginning for Salena Laws and her two sons. Patrick is starting seventh grade at Fruit Cove Middle School, and J.J. is going into his junior year at Creekside High School.
Both started new schools, and bigger ones at that. And for Patrick, it’s his first year riding a bike to school.
“That’s a big change for him but I think it’s exciting to see the other kids riding. They have an entire parking lot of bikes for them,” Laws said. “They are both musicians so they are going to be in band. The older one has been at band camp all week so they gave him a little bit of a chance to adjust.”
While there was plenty of excitement, there was some nervousness, too.
Madison Bednar is starting sixth grade at Fruit Cove Middle School
“I am a little nervous because there are a lot of classes and just a big school and everything,” Bednar said.
There were nerves and anticipation for her mother, Jessica Bednar, too.
“I might have some nerves for her for, any challenges that she may face, but we will get through those together,” she said.
On Race Track Road, lines of traffic could be seen getting Julington Creek Elementary students to class.
Oh Williams and her daughter, who is starting fifth grade, rode their bikes
“Make new friends, meet their teachers — my daughter is so excited about that, and she is so happy to come here,” Williams said.
Most COVID-19 protocols in place over the last two years are gone, although there are some new challenges, including a bus driver shortage. St. Johns County School District Superintendent Tim Forson said that there are 11 fewer bus operators this year to start than last year and that they’re down five bus routes.
The county is also managing overwhelming growth, even having to build more than 100 portable classrooms and opening the new Beachside High School. Forson hopes the rezoning and reshaping of the district create balance.
“In the end, it’s for the purpose of benefiting children. So even so rezoning can be painful for a child or for a family, or you know, initially, it usually doesn’t take long for them to find that new school and feel that, that is home and that’s where they belong, and we’re sure that will happen again,” Forson said.
All students in St. Johns County had early dismissals on Wednesday. All middle schoolers got out first at 12:50 p.m. and most elementary students end their days at 1:45 p.m. And students in high school all around the county get out at 2:50 this afternoon.