Hanna Hodges certainly beat the crowd for her son Grant’s first day of pre-kindergarten.
They arrived at Rincon Elementary School around 6:45 Monday morning, well before the 7:20 bell to begin the day. Hodges allowed plenty of time to take pictures of her 4-year-old smiling in front of the school’s main entrance.
“I thought there would be more people here taking pictures,” Hodges said. “I went to this elementary school, so I think I’m more excited than he is.”
Grant didn’t say much, but he nodded when his mom asked if he was excited about his first day of school. They waited with a few other early-birds in the RES lobby for the bell to ring.
“I’d rather be early than late,” Hodges said.
That mantra is being stressed to anyone going to and from Effingham County middle and high schools while Highway 119 is being repaved. When school started Monday, only 3 of the project’s 9.7 miles had been resurfaced, and drivers were being encouraged to allow themselves plenty of time and expect delays.
The contractor, R.B. Baker Construction, has pledged not to close any lanes of 119 during peak school traffic times, and crews did not begin working on the road Monday until after 9 a.m. Effingham County Sheriff’s Office deputies directed traffic in front of ECMS and ECHS.
Though traffic backed up in each direction at times, it was nothing out of the ordinary considering all the traffic for a high school and middle school converges on one road.
“Basically that’s all we had today — congestion from first-day traffic,” said Maj. Scott Lewis of the ECSO.
“It’s just a small bump in the road,” ECHS Principal Yancy Ford said of the road work. “I just ask parents to be patient. The main thing is we want to get everybody in and out safely, and I think we have a good plan in place.”
That plan includes directing all after-school student traffic to turn right out of Effingham County High on 119 toward Springfield for the next several days. School bus traffic heading toward Guyton will be allowed to turn left and be escorted by state troopers and ECSO deputies.
The after-school plan factors in the differences between the morning and afternoon traffic flows. Whereas cars arrive on campus at different times before school, they leave en masse when school lets out for the day.
“In the mornings, we have a trickle-effect of buses and parents coming into school,” Ford said, “whereas (in the afternoon) you’re going to release 3,000 kids between middle school, high school and a couple elementary schools that we feed from with our buses.”
Schools throughout the district reported having a hectic but typical first day, Superintendent Randy Shearouse said. Enrollment on the first day this year is comparable to the first day last year, with about 11,000 students enrolled in Effingham County’s 13 public schools.
“It was certainly a good first day by all accounts,” Shearouse said.
While drivers going in and out of ECHS and ECMS worried about traffic, the elementary-schoolers had their own first-day concerns. Michael Freeman, 4, sat in the Rincon Elementary lobby with his mother Leslie Heller, waiting for the first bell to ring, and he had a thought that bolted him upright.
“We forgot the things to write my name with,” the pre-kindergartener said.
“No, they’re in here,” his mother said, patting a book bag nearly the size of Michael.