ROCK FALLS – It's 7:30 in the morning at East Coloma-Nelson Elementary, and it's the first day of school. The grounds are empty, devoid of children so far except for those with parents who teach here. The halls are quiet, the swings still.
It's the first day that East Coloma-Nelson truly exists, at least in the minds of its students. Up until this school year, East Coloma and Nelson had always been two separate schools – but with financial concerns and dwindling enrollment numbers, voters decided this past spring to consolidate the two.
It's a big day for firsts: It's also the first day of David Chavira's role as principal; he was assistant principal for the past 2 years.
The consolidation has made for some changes to the school; new programs are being offered that weren't before – middle schoolers' elective choices have broadened. Students now can choose from family consumer science, speech and debate, mythology, and current events. They also may apply to be a teacher assistant, an opportunity Chavira hopes will give students a little bit of real-life experience.
It's 8 a.m. now, and back on the playground, the children are starting to file in. School starts this year at 8:12, a change for students from years past. Last year, East Coloma began at 8:32.
Jaicie Vasquez is among the first children on the playground. Dressed in a turquoise top with sequins and ruffles, black leggings and sequined shoes, she sports green Wayfarer-style sunglasses that slip down her nose as she moves a few feet up the climbing dome. The 9-year-old is starting fourth grade. She wants to be a supermodel.
"So I can be popular and be on TV shows," she says matter-of-factly.
Jaicie's a gymnast and a dancer, too: hip-hop, jazz, ballet, tap.
She has trouble remembering her new teacher's name. It's Mrs. Whaley.
Graci Junis leans up against the south wall of the building with her best friend, Ady Waldschmidt. Together they survey the playground. Both girls are 7 and going into the second grade. This year, though, they'll be in separate classrooms: Graci in Mrs. Lacy's, and Ady in Mrs. Repass'.
"It's OK; we'll have a special meeting place during recess," Ady says.
Oh, yeah? Where?
"Under the swings," Graci says.
"Pretty much we hang out over there, unless we're being chased by boys," Ady says. "They say that they wanna kiss us and stuff, and so we run away."
Do they have boyfriends?
"No!" they both yell.
Another friend joins the duo against the wall: Sophie Chavira, 7, one of the principal's daughters – he has three who attend East Coloma-Nelson.
"Oh, my gosh, turn around! Turn around!" Ady squeals. "Oh, my gosh, look at this. Would you look at this?" Ady says, pointing frantically at Sophie's One Direction backpack. Ady and Graci are practically green with envy and immediately start ticking off their own One Direction supplies. Ady has two notebooks; Graci has pencils.
"He's mine," Ady says, pointing at the face of a blond boy on the backpack – Niall Horan, a singer and guitarist in the band.
The girls run off as students start to line up for class. 8:12 – it's time.
The children line up in rows, separated by class. Graci and Sophie both have Mrs. Lacy this year and get in line together. Ady gets into the line next to them, with Mrs. Repass.
The children file in, and the three girls have to say their goodbyes.
Upon entering Mrs. Lacy's room, Graci and Sophie discover they're seated one in front of the other.
Mrs. Lacy does a head count: 12. One's missing. Michael. We've lost Michael.
She looks out into the hallway and asks another teacher whether he had mistakenly gone into her room. "No," the woman in the hall replies. "He's out there talking to Dad. He's a little upset."
Michael walks into room 6 at 8:25, rocking a truly awesome mohawk, with Dad and little sister in tow.
Mrs. Lacy has him take his seat, and class begins.
It's 8:30 now, and in the front office there appears to be some confusion. A few kids missed the bus, apparently. With the new schedule, it seems, the buses were a little bit early on their routes.
The school has 283 students enrolled this year, and other than the slight hiccup with the buses, things are pretty calm.
"Everyone came in with smiles," Chavira says, warmly. "That's all we can ask for."