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Hartford students get warm welcome on first day back in school

First Day of School, Hartford
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Essence Haugabook is all smiles as she enters Sarah J. Rawson Elementary School in Hartford for her first day of fifth grade with her father, Antwan Haugabook (in green), just behind.

Some Hartford public schools students were surprised on their first day back at school on Monday by members of Calling All Brothers, who cheered and high-fived students as they walked into Sarah J. Rawson Elementary School.

As school buses started to roll in, Pastor AJ Johnson from Calling All Brothers gathered the crowd to get them ready to cheer for the children. Calling All Brothers is a community group of men from different backgrounds who are dedicated to implementing positive change in underserved communities.

“This is a great opportunity for us to be here and get them excited for school,” Johnson said.

First Day of School, Hartford
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Jerimiah Baugh poses for a photo on his first day of fourth grade at Rawson Elementary School.

Raylen Durant, who is going into second grade, held on to her mom’s hand as they walked toward the school building among the “cheerleaders.”

“I’m nervous because I’m shy, and I’m going to make new friends and I’m going to have a new teacher,” Raylen Durant said. “But I’m excited. I’m excited for science [classes].”

Her mom, Quiana Durant, was also a little nervous about her daughter being back in school.

First Day of School, Hartford
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Four-year-old Jocelyn Wilson parades though a line of high-fives on her way to her first day of pre-kindergarten at Rawson Elementary School. Her mother, Tissa Burrell, and dad Jonathan Wilson, head custodian at Rawson, are close behind.

“I’m nervous just because I’m used to being with her,” Durant said. “But I know she needs this. I’m nervous and excited for her.”

Fellow Hartford parent Val Burn had just walked his daughter to her first day of kindergarten. He said they didn’t expect such an exciting welcome.

“She like, ‘Let me do this, Dad,’” Burn said. “That’s her style. She do it all. She went through the crowd like three times.”

Burn said he’s keeping a positive outlook on schools starting again, saying that he was impressed with how the school district handled the pandemic.

“They did a great job securing all the protocols and guidelines, I can’t complain,” he said.

First Day of School, Hartford
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Lisa Moore says goodbye to her daughter Elizabeth Davis on her first day of kindergarten at Rawson Elementary School in Hartford.

As the doors opened, some of the children were eager to go in, but in some cases, parents needed time to digest letting their kids go.

Brandy Hendrix and her daughter, Paige Francisco, waited a moment before stepping into the school building. Paige is going into pre-kindergarten and has been waiting for this moment all summer.

“She’s really smart. She’s been wanting to go for so long, and finally it’s time,” Hendrix said. “I’m a little nervous because this is her first year of school. I’m nervous, but I’m excited for her.”

Hartford Public Schools Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez was up bright and early to greet the children. She said the fact that the school year is starting without a huge cloud of COVID-19 concerns or confusing protocols is a huge plus.

“We want to connect deeply with our students. It feels and sounds different for us already,” she said. “We will continue some of our mitigations. Masks are optional, and we still encourage families to get vaccinated.”

First Day of School, Hartford
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
First grade teacher Ella Barnes hugs former student Corey Nickson, who came out to welcome students to Rawson Elementary School on the first day of the new school year. The students and families were greeted with enthusiasm by members of Calling All Brothers.

Updated: August 29, 2022 at 1:13 PM EDT
This story has been updated.
Catherine Shen is a Connecticut Public’s education reporter. The Los Angeles native comes to CT Public after a decade of print and digital reporting across the country.
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