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Detroit’s first day of school: Fist bumps, pom poms, and a pep talk

A brother and sister hold hands as they walk toward their school on the first day of classes.

Eishea, 8, and her brother Xzavier, 6, make their way to their first day of school at Mark Twain School for Scholars in Detroit.

Nic Antaya for Chalkbeat

Principal Sheila Langford was standing outside Mark Twain School for Scholars Monday morning, waving blue and yellow pom poms as she and other school staff warmly greeted children and their parents arriving for class.

“Welcome back. Good to see you,” Langford said.

“It’s always a good feeling seeing them back,” said Lawrence Miller, a longtime attendance agent who has spent the last five years at Mark Twain.

A student looks up toward a video while sitting on the floor, as other students sit behind him.

Second grader Ian, 7, watches a video during the first day of school at Mark Twain School for Scholars in Detroit.

Nic Antaya for Chalkbeat

Monday marked the first day of school in the Detroit Public Schools Community District, as well as some of the charter schools in the city. Michigan’s official first day isn’t until Tuesday, Sept. 6, but many districts, hoping to get a jump start on the school year and shorten the long summer break, have gotten waivers from the state to start early.

After more than two years disrupted by a pandemic that at times forced schools to shift to virtual learning, some parents expressed optimism that the 2022-23 school year would be a return to the way things were before the pandemic. The last two years have been a challenge for schools, as enrollment declined, student disengagement and mental health challenges grew, and academic achievement stalled.

“I feel good. Everything’s normal,” said Conneze Redmond, a parent of a third grader at Mark Twain. While last year was a good one for his child, Redmond said, the previous year was a challenge because students were mostly remote. 

At Mark Twain, a colorful “Welcome Back” sign was planted in the lawn near the front entrance. A light drizzle was coming down as students arrived at school. But spirits were high as school staff delivered fist bumps and waves before ushering the arriving students inside the building and out of the rain.

Some parents didn’t care about the wet weather. They took the last few seconds to snap photos of their children in their pressed shirts and colorful backpacks.

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Michael Swan II and his son Michael Swan III arrived at University Preparatory Academy Elementary School in Detroit Monday morning for the first day of school.

Koby Levin/Chalkbeat

Over at University Preparatory Academy Elementary School in the city’s Midtown neighborhood, the Swans — father Michael Swan II and son Michael Swan III — arrived after a drive that included a pep talk. The gist of that talk: “I want him to finish what he starts,” the elder Swan said.

Was Michael looking forward to the first day? 

The second grader smiled but looked down at the sidewalk. “C’mon,” said his father. “Say what you were just telling me in the car. What are you excited about?”

Michael smiled again. “Seeing my friends,” he replied.

The trials of two years of interrupted schooling were on many parents’ minds as they dropped their children off on Monday.

Tyessa Collins said she knows exactly what she wants out of this school year for her second- and fifth-graders. “Straight A’s. Kids and teachers able to stay in school. No virtual.”

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Cash Adams drops off her son Rhomel Logan Monday morning at University Preparatory Academy Elementary School in Detroit.

Koby Levin/Chalkbeat

“I want it to be a long school year,” said Cash Adams, who was dropping her son off for his first day of kindergarten. “I don’t want the kids to be at home.”

Her son, Rhomel Logan, knew what he was looking forward to about the first day of school: 

“Playing!”

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