For Mahliah Estrellado, the driveway was far enough.
She had walked with her mother and little brother to the place where the sidewalk met Olympic View Elementary School’s entry way. Now a fifth-grader, in her final year in elementary school, she wanted to finish the journey by herself.
“I love you princess,” Jackie Estrellado said as she squeezed her daughter.
Thursday’s first day of school in the Oak Harbor School District was an emotional day for some parents. A father in a military uniform spent extra time running his fingers through the hair of his two daughters to make sure they looked proper for the occasion. Some mothers and fathers knelt down to give what was intended to be a final hug or kiss to their child, only to sneak one or two more before they left.
Mahliah Estrellado got a final embrace from her 4-year-old son Brandon before she walked the rest of the way to her classroom.
“Last year, I did (walk her to class),” Jackie Estrellado said. “She said, ‘Mom, I’m getting too old.’ I told her I wouldn’t walk her to the door this year.
“She’s at the age when she’s starting to be independent.”
The 2013-14 school year was ushered in a unique way.
Community and school leaders greeted students at all eight of the district schools as they departed buses and entered school buildings.
The idea was spearheaded by new school district superintendent Lance Gibbon, whose mission for the district includes forming more bonds within the community.
Gibbon greeted students at Oak Harbor High School, North Whidbey Middle School and Crescent Harbor Elementary School.
Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley also made the rounds. Other participants included State Senator Barbara Bailey, Oak Harbor Police Chief Ed Green, Island County Commissioners Jill Johnson and Kelly Emerson and several members of the Oak Harbor school board and city council.
“It’s been exciting,” Dudley said. “Looking back, the first day of school for me wasn’t always a positive experience growing up as a child in Olympia.”
Dudley said he noticed some blank facial expressions turn to smiles once students met the greeters. Students who got off buses at Oak Harbor High School were met by cheerleaders.
“This was a great idea,” he said.
Once students entered buildings, the pace was at times frantic.
“I don’t have a schedule?” one student called out in a crowded main office at Oak Harbor High School.
Trying to restore order to the chaos was Linda Otruba, dean of students.
“Ladies, where are you headed?” she said to a group wandering the halls.
Otruba roamed the building herself, telling most students to head to their advisory class. She looked for one specific indicator of confusion.
“That blank stare,” Otruba said, “that bewildered look, that ‘I don’t know why I’m here’ look.”
Debbie Matthews has seen it.
Matthews, the office assistant at Crescent Harbor Elementary, has spent 27 years at the school and will retire at the end of this school year.
“This is my last first day,” Matthews said with a big smile.
“I love seeing all the kids. The staff here is like family. It’s a bittersweet thing for me.”
For Gibbon, the day was an excellent start to a new chapter in the Oak Harbor School District.
It was the first day of school of sorts for him, too. Rick Schulte had been superintendent on the first day of school for the Oak Harbor schools for the past two decades.
Gibbon was named as Schulte’s successor over the summer.
“There’s nothing like the first day of school, the energy and the excitement, the smiling faces and the nervous faces,” Gibbon said. “This was just making our kids and families feel welcome.”