By Kim Walter
FRONT ROYAL -- During the entire ride from her home to Warren County Middle School, Kayla Fleming's palms were sweaty and her head was swimming with questions.
"Would I fit in? Would the older kids be mean? Would I get lost?" the 11-year-old said Wednesday afternoon.
The worries were understandable coming from a once head-of-the-school fifth- grader transitioning into middle school life.
However, by the end of the school day, Fleming was feeling enthused about her new surroundings.
"I feel at home here," she said, smiling.
Fleming was among the 5,250 students who attended Warren County Public Schools' first day back in the classroom. The first day attendance numbers were up six students from last year.
Superintendent Pamela McInnis said there are additional students listed in the division's system who did not show up on the first day. This is typical, she added, and it's expected that student numbers will rise significantly between Wednesday's opening and the days following Labor Day.
Throughout the division, students, teachers and administrators took the first step in getting into new routines -- waking up bright and early, learning bus stops and routes, navigating hallways, choosing a lunch table, classroom expectations and, of course, homework.
Greg Drescher, assistant superintendent for instruction, said the first day of school is all about becoming familiar with new routines that lead to students and staff feeling "safe, secure and happy at school."
He said that each year is exciting, but with the start of a school year comes a learning curve. However, Drescher was pleased to see that teachers and students were already busy working and learning on Wednesday.
"In visiting schools we saw excited students, teachers and staff," he said. "We look forward to a great year."
Administrators aren't the only ones looking forward. Now that sixth-grader Jordan Kenney, 11, has made it to middle school, there's no looking back.
"I don't think I'll really miss anything about elementary school," she said. "I'm just focusing on the future."
She and fellow classmate Kayla Hudson, 11, were comforted by the silly antics of some of their teachers.
"I guess I thought they would be really strict about everything," said Kenney. "But they were making jokes and having fun!"
Hudson said it was nice being the oldest students in elementary school, but hopes that it won't take long to get used to the sixth-grade status.
"I feel pretty awesome ... we have lockers," she said. "And so many more class choices."
All three girls expressed interest in taking non-core classes, like art, keyboarding and foreign languages.
Kenney said she looked forward to more hands-on experiments in science, her favorite class. She said she hopes to become a teacher one day and follow in the footsteps of both her parents.
Even though she's confident in her educational future now, Kenney admitted that she, too, was "a wreck" leading up to the first day of school.
"Oh my gosh, you should've seen me," she said, burying her face in her hands. "But I'm feeling so much better now."
Hudson said the thought of being around new, older students was a little intimidating. Thankfully, a few funny teachers put her at ease.
"I'm just going to make this the best year ever," she said, beaming. "I'm ready."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org