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Forest Grove and Banks are among the school districts that welcomed students Wednesday.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Ruby Ruhl, 8, and classmates walk up to the door for the first day of school at Dilley Elementary School on Wednesday, Sept. 4.For students across western Washington County, it was back to school on Wednesday, Sept. 4.

The first day of school is always a time of heightened emotion and energy — some students eager to see their friends and learn new lessons, others nervous about a new school or grade level, and many experiencing some combination of those feelings and more.

For Dayle Henderson, school counselor at Dilley Elementary School south of Forest Grove, it's a day she spends mostly out of her office. Her routine is to greet students at the door, then start making the rounds as classes get underway. Going from classroom to classroom and visiting with students during lunch and recess, she is able to provide support where teachers need it — and soothe children for whom emotions are running a little too high.

"It can be overwhelming and overstimulating," Henderson said. Her job, on the first day of school and every day thereafter, is to help students learn to regulate their feelings and practice emotional and psychological self-care — in a child-friendly way, of course.

Teachers have perhaps the biggest role in making their students feel comfortable as they get used to their new classrooms, classmates and instructors.

"I like to give my kids that feeling … that they're kind of home, in a different sense," said second-grade teacher Ehleeza Tionquiao. "That makes it easier to transition into the school year."

She added, "We'll be doing a lot of activities on feelings, and all of the feelings that come up during that first day of school — because it's not just one."

The emotional highs of the first day of school aren't just limited to elementary school students.

This is Tionquiao's 13th year teaching at Dilley Elementary, she said. It's taken her exactly that long to master her own first-day-of-school jitters, she said.

"This is the first year where I haven't had dreams at night before, or all of those weeks coming up," Tionquiao said, laughing. "Lucky 13."PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Students pack the hallways on the first day of classes at Banks High School on Wednesday, Sept. 4.

The students are older, but in some ways, it was the same story at Banks High School on Wednesday. Principal Jacob Pence said he used to be anxious for the first day of a new school year, too.

"I think my first few years I did, but now it's not really nervousness, but more excitement," he said. "I try to be in the halls and welcome kids. They're nervous and excited too, so I try to reassure them and tell them to have fun."

Pence said teachers and administrators at the high school level also have to be mindful and provide support for students who need it.

"They have nerves, so we just try to calm them down and make sure they have a successful start," Pence explained.

Of course, it's not all about anxiety. Jackie Fisher, who teaches second grade in the classroom next to Tionquiao's at Dilley Elementary, said the excitement in the air makes the first day of school a special one every year.

"Some of them are nervous, but I think it's more 'exciting nervous,'" Fisher said. "And the hugs. Lots and lots of hugs."

Those happy reunions are Henderson's favorite part of the first day of school.

"I think it's just that opportunity to get to see all those kids," she said. "I really miss them over the summer."

Pence and Jeff Leo, superintendent of the Banks School District, feel the same way.

"It's a little more hectic than usual, but I know the staff and teachers are excited to get the students back," Leo said, "and whether the students want to admit it or not, they're excited too. It's always an exciting time, that first day back."PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Parents and children walk into Dilley Elementary School on the first day of classes Wednesday, Sept. 4.


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