By the time Lexi Koontz, 14, successfully opened her locker at the end of Santa Rosa High School’s freshman orientation session, she felt ready to face her freshman year.
“Got it,” she told her mom, Kassie Koontz, after the metallic orange lock sprang open with the twist of a key. The pair had spent the previous couple hours getting Koontz’s yearbook picture taken, picking up her schedule, and locating each of the classrooms Koontz will have to navigate Wednesday, when Sonoma County’s biggest district heads back to school.
If the symbolic end of summer could be pinned to one day in Sonoma County, it would have to be Wednesday, when 23 of the county’s 40 school districts welcome back close to 33,000 students, according to state data. Districts returning that day stretch from Cloverdale Unified west to Guerneville, south to Old Adobe Union in Petaluma, and east to Kenwood.
“It kind of revitalizes you,” said Jay Meyer, a physical education teacher at Elsie Allen High School. “Teachers over the summer go into relaxation mode, and toward the end you have a feeling of, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready.’ Then you see one or two of the students you really enjoyed in class last year, and it makes you realize why you picked the profession.”
Altogether, more than three-quarters of Sonoma County schools will return this week, with school-bound cars and buses crowding roadways. Sonoma Valley Unified welcomes about 4,700 students back to school Monday. Tuesday, more than 20,000 kids will return to classrooms at Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified Middle and High schools, Oak Grove Union, Petaluma City Schools, Rincon Valley Union, Roseland and Waugh districts. Harmony Union and Monte Rio districts will return Thursday with a little over 800 students.
While the wave of enrollment crests this week, the swell actually started Aug. 6, when Santa Rosa’s Bellevue Union parents sent about 1,800 kids back to school. Then, last week, Windsor and Healdsburg Unified districts saw 7,200 students return.
Wrapping up the back to school crush, several small districts will return next week: Kashia, Horicon and Wilmar welcome back around 300 pupils Aug. 25. Fort Ross will return Aug. 26 with about 30 kids.
In higher education, Santa Rosa Junior College classes begin Monday. A little over 23,000 students had enrolled by Friday. Sonoma State University classes start Tuesday. The university is expecting its largest-ever student body, with 9,250 students enrolled for the fall term.
Last week, orientations at schools around the county helped prepare kids for their first day back.
“I thought I’d be a little more nervous, but I’m not at all,” said Koontz at the end of her session. She went to middle school in Rohnert Park and said she was looking forward to attending the larger Santa Rosa High School, where she anticipates meeting more like-minded people through the ArtQuest program, sports and other activities.
“It’s the first time she’s ever wanted to start school,” said her mother, Kassie Koontz. “She’s been talking about it all summer.”
Across campus, a group of sophomores were clustered around paperwork, comparing schedules. To them, the start of school seemed a lot less exhilarating.
“Freshman year, we were excited. This year, not so much,” said 15-year-old Bella Rabellino.