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Schools Across Boston Welcome Students Back On First Day03:42Download

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Students line up for the first day of school at Oliver Hazard Perry School in South Boston. (Max Larkin/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
Students line up for the first day of school at Oliver Hazard Perry School in South Boston. (Max Larkin/WBUR)

A new school year began Thursday in Boston, bringing change as well as familiar scenes to more than 120 schools across the city.

Families filled the harborside schoolyard of the Oliver Hazard Perry School Thursday morning. The Perry is a small K-8 school in South Boston, run by principal Geoff Rose.

As the start time approached, Rose lined students up by grade and had them face their teachers and their parents.

“On the count of three you’re going to say ‘Thank you,'" he instructed them. Rose says he's trying to build a sense of cooperation between the kids and the grown-ups. “The adults on this side, the adults on that side, we are working together to build the brains of all of these students."

Same as it ever was, though Rose explains that he’ll be relying on the latest in brain science and development to guide teaching at the Perry this year.

Old And New

The first day of school always strikes a balance between old and new.

There have been changes in the district. Some of Boston’s notoriously old school buildings have been revamped as part of Build BPS, a $1 billion effort to modernize.

And the Perry building, built in 1904, was one of the first to get repairs.

"They had done all the floors over in the school, so we had to get all the furniture out of the rooms, back into the rooms, get bulletin boards," explained Doreen McCarthy, a computer and science specialist who’s taught at the Perry for 18 years.

And principal Rose tells families they’ll see less brown paint and more blue on the walls as the school year goes on.

A few miles away, at the Blackstone School in the South End, there’s more novelty.

A new vendor called Revolution Foods debuted its first new lunch — spaghetti and meatballs — during a visit from Mayor Marty Walsh and Superintendent Tommy Chang.

Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang tries the new lunches at the Blackstone School in the South End on the first day of school Thursday. (Max Larkin/WBUR)
Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang tries the new lunches at the Blackstone School in the South End on the first day of school Thursday. (Max Larkin/WBUR)

The city signed a $38 million contract with the vendor this year after complaints about meals. The mayor was pleased by the reviews.

“I asked the kids, I said, ‘What’s the difference?,’ and they said it’s better this year. That’s a good first day," Walsh said.

And around noon, Superintendent Chang said he was optimistic that district school buses were beating last year's on-time percentage, after MIT engineers used an algorithm to plan new routes for hundreds of Boston buses. That led to cutbacks in the numbers of buses — and some worry that drivers would be late as they learned the new routes.

Indeed, as more data came in, it became clear that the on-time percentage had in fact fallen: to 41 percent, several points off the day-one pace set last year. In a phone interview on Friday, Superintendent Chang said he hadn't seen the full data when he commented on Thursday. He cited delays in getting buses off the yard, and expressed hope that bus performance would improve quickly, as it has in years past.

First-Day Excitement

But even amid all that change, there’s the same first-day excitement and anxiety.

Kayary King, a first grader at the Perry School, didn't feel much like talking as he lined up to enter school with a new teacher and a new classroom.

So Kayary’s mother, Natavia Tuitt, tried to psych him up.

"It’s always nerve-wracking, but he’s gonna be OK, and he’s gonna have fun,” she said.

Tuitt says she felt relieved that Kayary came to love the Perry after transferring in last year. It’s near their home, and she knows it well.

"This is a great school. I love this school. I used to go here when I was young. I know all the teachers, they all know me," she said.

McCarthy, the computer specialist, says kids know more about her machines than ever. But that’s not what she notices. "Kids are kids! They’re excited for the first day, just like we are."

After the Pledge of Allegiance, principal Rose had parents clap and cheer as students made their way into the Perry school's 113th first day of classes.

Correction: This piece has been updated to reflect how the district's understanding of bus performance evolved throughout the day.

This segment aired on September 7, 2017.

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Max Larkin Twitter Digital Reporter
Max Larkin is a multimedia reporter for Edify, WBUR's education vertical.

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