By Rose Luna
Killeen Daily Herald
After taking numerous pictures in front of the elementary school, Paul and Ljupka Schindler kissed and hugged their three children before ushering them into the hallways of Timber Ridge Elementary in Killeen early Monday morning.
"It's nerve-wracking," said Paul Schindler. "We're very sad, but the kids are excited to be back at school."
Debra Ladd was without a camera but full of hugs, kisses and tearful goodbyes for her two Timber Ridge Rangers.
"It's been tearful getting them ready," said Ladd. "They are the want to learn' type, though, so they were real excited to go back to school this year."
From pre-K, 4-year-olds making their first venture into the education system to seniors embarking on the final leg of their journey, Killeen schools geared back into action Monday in their mission of serving more than 35,000 students.
"I love seeing all the smiling faces (from the students)," said Dana Coleman, principal of Timber Ridge Elementary. "At first they're sad but they soon turn into happy faces."
With questions like "Where is my classroom?" and "Where is the cafeteria?" the teachers and staff were better organized this year than the previous year when the elementary school opened its doors for the first time, Coleman said.
"With the system we have this year, the students will have a better routine and know where they need to be," he said.
As Staff Sgt. Alicia Sivelle dropped off her second-grader, she was taken back by the hordes of students, parents and teachers pilling into the cafeteria.
"I walked up and said It's lunch already?'" Sivelle said.
Coming from Fort Stewart, Ga., Sivelle and her family have been in the Central Texas area for a month and are still trying to familiarize themselves with the school system.
"I've been anticipating (the first day of school)," she said. "I want a good school for my son. But this is a new school with no statistics. I'm just hoping for the best."
Any elementary school on its first day would project the same image of parents letting go and students with a handful of school supplies and a face full of excitement.
But at Harker Heights High School, the scene of parents hugging and kissing their child good-bye was replaced with students slamming car doors and briskly walking to groups of other students – maybe waving a quick goodbye to their parents if their friends weren't looking.
The typical teenage behavior was raging through the hallways of Harker Heights High, as students were catching up with old friends and rekindling new friendships, all before the tardy bell rang.
For Harker Heights senior Brittany Worley, the first day of school brought a mixture of emotions.
"It's been cool to see all my friends, but I'm happy and sad at the same time," she said.
"It's fun to see how everyone has changed," said Jennifer Brenke, senior class president of Harker Heights High. "You won't talk to them all summer long, but then on the first day of school you're best friends again."
Jordyn Benson was among the many juniors who were finally able to experience the thrill of driving to school for the first time Monday.
"I had to get up early for practice, even though I'm not a morning person," said Benson, a member of the Crimson Belles dance team. "But it was exciting to put all my stuff in my car and drive to school for the first time."
As upperclassmen, many seniors feel like they need to take freshmen under their wing and make it a point to smile so they won't feel judged, Brenke said.
"Except for the boys," she added. "The boys will pick on (the freshman) a little. I wish they were more welcoming."
Although quirky backpacks and bubbly chatter were in abundance at Harker Heights High, there were a few parents who still felt the need to escort their child through the front double doors.
"I'm excited. My baby's growing up," said Rhonda Mack, mother of ninth-grader Amber Mack. "It feels like I'm taking her to kindergarten all over again."
"Mom, I'm a big girl now," Amber Mack said.
"But you made me come in with you this morning," Rhonda Mack replied. "You still need me."
Contact Rose Luna at firstname.lastname@example.org