A line of bumper-to-bumper traffic wrapped around the Orcutt Academy parking lot Monday afternoon as parents and children flocked to campus for the first time in the new year.

More than 5,000 Orcutt Union School District students returned to school as second semester classes kicked off following a three-week winter break.

"It feels like I haven't been here in a while even though it's only been three weeks," Jared Hendricks, an Orcutt Academy junior, said while waiting for a ride. "I was definitely happy to see my friends — and some of my teachers — again."

Though some grumbled about the seemingly short break, Rhett Carter, principal of Orcutt Academy, said the majority of his students had begun easing back into their school day ritual. 

"The vibe was pretty positive and they’re easing back into their routines," he said. "It seems they haven’t skipped a beat."

Freshman Tatyana Rojas and sophomore Adelyn Gaither, teammates from the cheer squad, were conflicted about their Monday morning classes. Though both spoke highly about their school and teachers, they disagreed on whether the length of the break was sufficient.

"I thought it was too short," Rojas said. "I wanted to get my sleep schedule back on track."

"I think it's the perfect length," Gaither said. "You don't necessarily get out of the swing of things and get back here recharged and ready to go."

As classes begin to pick up following the three-week hiatus, Carter said winter will be an exciting semester for students who applied to colleges and for scholarships last year.

"A lot of the [seniors] are going to find out about their choices of colleges," Carter said. "We’ll be finding out about those later this semester and want to make sure they’re as successful as they can be up until graduation."

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Standing under a leafless maple tree, senior Kevin Lopez said he hopes to hear back from the colleges he applied to late last year.

"I wouldn't say I waited my whole life for this, but I have been waiting for it," he said. 

Lopez, an offensive and defensive lineman on the school's 8-man football team, said he hopes to play football or run track and field at the collegiate level. He believes his time at Orcutt Academy and two years playing for the school's football team have prepared him for collegiate success.

"It's set me down a straight path and taught me what I need to know," he said. "I'm eager to hear back from University of California at Irvine, Oregon State and University of Nevada at Reno."

As he wraps up his final months at Orcutt Academy, Lopez offered some words of advice to the classes of 2019, 2020 and 2021.

"Try and stay ahead of the game," he said. "Once you fall back it's hard to catch up."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Education Reporter

Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.