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Zarrow classroom smiles on first day of school.

From the start of the first bus to the sounds of student dismissal - the first day of school creates feelings of nostalgia and excitement at the same time.

The sounds are all familiar - the buses starting, the bells ringing, the morning announcements, the laughing, the high fives - most of us have experienced all these things. But, at the same time, they also signal something new - new students, new teachers, new friends, new experiences, and new opportunities.

The sounds of the new school year start well before 5 a.m. with motors running for safety checks on school buses, forklifts beeping as they move throughout our 100,000 square foot warehouse to transport food and supplies across the city, and giant Hobart mixers humming as they knead 160 pounds of dough at a time to make the 8,500 rolls that will be served during lunch today.

By 6 a.m., you’ll hear the jingling of keys as facilities staff unlock school buildings and begin the morning routines that keep schools safe, clean, and inviting for teachers, students, and families. At 6:30 a.m., the halls are filled with the chatter of school leaders, teachers, and staff making final preparations to welcome their students back.

By 6:45 a.m., you’ll alarm clocks going off around the city and the sound of parents waking groggy children with a cheerful "Time to get up - it's the first day of school!" Students re-adjusting to their school-year schedule for the first time since May might feel a mix of dread (we’ve all been there) but also anticipation - what will my teacher be like, what will I learn this year, will I be able to find my classes and, most importantly, who will I sit with during lunch?

At 7:00 a.m., you’ll hear laughter and animated conversations as students see each other at bus stops and catch up after the summer break, followed by the squeal of the air brakes as the school bus pulls over and opens its doors. Then it’s the warm “Welcome back!” from teachers, school leaders, staff, and community members as students arrive on campus for the first time of the year. Depending on the school, you might hear City Year Tulsa corps members chanting, clapping, and singing “Good morning!” or the slap of a high-five from a Tulsa Roughnecks team member.

Between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m., the school-day sounds are those of nearly 40,000 students returning to class – doors open and close, sneakers squeak on the freshly polished floors, lockers bang shut, and hundreds of excited voices briefly fill the hallways before classes begin. It’s not long before you hear sounds that ring all too well in our memories: the first bell of the school year, the morning announcements, and the school year has officially begun. Teachers get to know their students. Students get to know their teachers and new classmates.

By 10 a.m., the child nutrition team is hard at work in the cafeteria to prepare for lunch – they will serve 140,000 lunches district-wide every week this year! You’ll hear the sounds of running water, trays sliding in and out of refrigerators and ovens, and the hiss of the steam tables as they get filled with food. Over the next few hours, the cafeteria full of sound as students enjoy meals, and catch up with the teachers and peers they’ve missed all summer. It can get a bit loud, but it’s joyful and a welcome opportunity to spend time with friends.

You blink and all of the sudden it's the final bell of the day and one last wave of sounds: delighted giggles as young students reconnect with their parents who excitedly ask for every detail of the first day of school, shouts and laughter as older student leave with groups of friends, the roar of the buses headed back into neighborhoods to take students home, and sighs of contented exhaustion as teachers wrap up the day and start to plan for tomorrow.

By the early evening, you hear the jingle of keys again as the school doors are locked, and finally inside the building, the sound of silence. Another year started. Another year of memories to be made with a new group of students as they learn, grow, and thrive.

These sounds alone spark memories for everyone, and our current students will remember those sounds decades from now when they send their own kids off for the first day of school. We all remember what it was like to go back to school; exciting, a little scary, challenging, but full of boundless opportunities. We never know exactly what the new school year will bring, but we are confident that it will be another great one, and we are so grateful to the teachers, students, and families who will spend it with us.

To our students: we are all behind you and here for you. We can’t wait to see (and hear!) the wonderful things you will do this year!

To our families: thank you for allowing us to care for your babies! We will keep them safe, supported, and loved as they learn and grow with us this year.

To our team: you are the heart of all that we do, thank you for your tireless service on behalf of Tulsa children and families!

Welcome back to school, Tulsa – we are so happy to see you back in our classrooms!