Thousands of students returned to classes in 32 Long Island districts Tuesday morning as the first wave of schools opened with anticipation and excitement for a brand-new year.
Parents in the Elwood schools eagerly prepared for the opening of full-day kindergarten -- one of four Long Island school systems that added a full-day session.
Dorothy Zaminski, 40, packed a full school bag for her youngest son, Jack, and for good reason as the extended schedules often required extra supplies.
"Oh, I love it," said Zaminski, a medical supplies salesperson who dropped her son off at Elwood's Harley Avenue Primary School. "With half-day classes, you just never had enough time."
East Meadow and Northport-East Northport, which start classes Wednesday, also are launching full-day kindergartens. So is Mount Sinai, which opens next week. That leaves just two districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties without full-day programs: Harborfields and Floral Park-Bellerose, though the latter district moved to a longer four-hour kindergarten schedule last year.
About 130 4- and 5-year-olds entered full-day classes at Harley Avenue School on Tuesday. Parents interviewed there mostly voiced support for the longer classes, which run a little more than six hours daily.
"It's very useful for us," said Jitesh Gandhi, 36, whose son, Milaan, is a kindergartner. "My wife and I both work."
Elwood was among 32 of the 124 public school districts across Nassau and Suffolk counties marking the first day Tuesday. Wednesday, 47 districts start classes, and 13 open Thursday. After Labor Day, 27 open Tuesday and five next Wednesday.
"It's going to be a great year," said Kevin Coster, the new superintendent in the William Floyd school district who welcomed families to the John S. Hobart Elementary School in Shirley Tuesday morning.
Coster noted the district has new bilingual classes, additional reading support for grades kindergarten through seven, and a continued focus on the district's own career and technical education program at the high school.
Some of the youngsters in Jennifer Parise's kindergarten at Hobart lingered by the door, unsure of taking a first step into the classroom. She welcomed each with a smile and told them what a great year it was going to be.
Five minutes later, students entertained themselves with Play-Doh, drew pictures and were making shapes with interlocking bricks.
"Kindergarten is an exceptional grade level and we get to see it through the eyes of them walking in for the very first time and starting their educational journey," Parise said.
In Malverne, Synaii Stanley, 5 and a first-grader at Maurice W. Downing Elementary School, bounded out of class Tuesday, her colorful hair beads bouncing against her shoulders.
Her first day at school was great, she said. She saw her cousins in the hallway and read a book with her teacher. "It was a book about school," she said.
Synaii's mother, Shakiea Stanley, 30, came to pick up her daughter before heading back to work. Shakiea said she is thrilled with the school district. She graduated from there herself; her daughter's kindergarten teacher taught Shakiea when she was in elementary school.
"Some of the students here have parents I went to school with," she said.
The theme from "Star Wars" blared on outside speakers at Wading River School as teachers holding walkie-talkies and clipboards monitored the buses that pulled up to the front entrance. Principal Louis Parrinello told fifth-graders gathered at an assembly in the gymnasium to look out for one another.
"Everyone has to be kind," he said. "If you see someone alone on the playground, can I count on you to be a friend to them?"
In Wading River, third-grade teacher Stacia Klefsky checked her pronunciation of each child's name and also wrote down their favorite films.
Among her students was Allie Darin, 8. While the soft-spoken girl was nervous about the first day in the Shoreham-Wading River district, she was calm and engaged in class.
Midway through the day, when asked whether she was enjoying herself, she nodded, saying she was happy she knew some of the other children.
Schools are closed Monday for Labor Day. The first continuous five days of classes will not occur until the week of Sept. 28 because schedulers had to take into account Labor Day and the Jewish holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.