Lompoc school bus driver John Thompson carefully backed into his spot at the district's bus depot and sat for an extra moment behind the wheel after parking.
"It was a crazy morning," Thompson said after driving his new 24-stop bus route on Monday morning as students in the Lompoc Unified School District returned to school.
Thompson, who began driving bus in March 2020, said he began his morning a little before the 6:30 a.m. start time to get a better handle on his new route schedule.
"I was here earlier because I hadn't had a chance to drive my route," he said. "I worked it out on the computer last night; it took me two hours."
Revving up for the afternoon, Thompson said he would be ready to return to Los Berros Elementary and Lompoc High School to pick up kids and get them back home safely.
Driving her own load of students, Denise Mullenary, mom of four, said the morning was hectic but momentous.
"I dropped off a kindergartner, an eighth grader and a high schooler, so it was a big day for me," Mullinary said. "First day of kindergarten and first day for high school."
Parents were asked to drop off their students at the school's front entrance at Miguelito Elementary, which according to Mullinary, did not phase her 5-year-old, Raegan, who happily entered campus, masked up and ready to start her first year.
"My kindergartner just walked right in," Mullenary said, slightly bewildered. "And I didn't get to walk her into class, which was kind of sad."
Four-year-old Addy, not yet old enough to join her siblings at school, was already looking forward to picking up her brother and sisters to help celebrate their first day back to school.
"Guess where we're going?" Addy asked. "Mi Amore's!"
Also celebrating were siblings Lucas and Taylor Pagan, who stepped onto the same campus together for the first time.
According to mother Andrea Aragon, Lucas, 5, entered kindergarten and has joined his sister, a proud fourth grader, on campus at La Canada Elementary.
"They were both so excited," Aragon said, noting she, too, is relieved to get back to some normalcy. "Taylor was nervous, as expected with a new school year."
Despite the nerves, neither seemed to mind the mask, Aragon said. "I think they understand that’s our current situation and respect it."
Yvette Trevino, mother to fifth grade twins, Alexander and Andrew Hilario, who attend Hapgood Elementary, and Gracie Hilario, a sophomore at Lompoc High School, said that although there is some residual concern around COVID-19, she knows her kids' need for in-person learning is paramount. She also is confident that they understand the importance of observing safety precautions.
"They each have hand sanitizer [bottles] on their backpacks," Trevino said. "I've also talked about washing hands, distancing and keeping masks on."
On a positive note, Trevino explained that her twins are classmates for the first this year, which they are excited about, and Gracie will begin her second year of high school — for the first time in person.
"Gracie is a sophomore, but it was like the first day of high school for her since her freshman year was spent at home due to COVID," Trevino said. "She was nervous but also very excited."