Atlanta students return to school 

Peyton Forest Elementary School principal Cynthia Gunner wore a top hat and ringmaster costume as she threw her arms as wide as her smile.

“Welcome to the greatest school on earth,” she said. “Learning is fun.”

The Atlanta elementary school, like others throughout the district, welcomed students back to school for their first day on Wednesday. 

A circus theme, complete with popcorn, costumed teachers and a stilt walker, greeted students at Peyton Forest, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

“This is a circus, but we want them to remember that learning is fun. A lot of our students come from very rough neighborhoods, very tough family situations, and we try to make school a place where they thrive not just in education but just like the total child. I believe that if children are loved and they want to be here then they’ll learn too. You can’t learn if you’re not here, and so school shouldn’t be a place where learning is dull,” Gunner said. 

Orlando Johnson arrived nearly an hour before the school day started with his kindergarten son, Zacherias. The five-year-old stood quietly next to his dad and wore a tiny blue backpack.

“I’m anxious,” Johnson said, about his son’s first day of school. “I’ve been going over little basics with him -- alphabet and numbers.”

Nyemma Seals, 10, said she was both excited and nervous to start fifth grade. She loves writing -- that and recess are her favorite parts of school -- and said she spent the summer swimming and going on trips with her family. 

The best part about the first day of school is “when you meet new teachers and friends,” she said. 

Right before she walked in the door she posed for a photo next to the giant performer on stilts. 

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen visited Peyton Forest Elementary School, one of many stops she planned to make on the first day of school.

This is Carstarphen’s fifth year as leader of APS, but her exuberant attitude on the first day of school hasn’t faded. 

“I think that the first day attendance, the first day participation -- whether it’s staff or students or families -- is a real indicator about the health of a student over time-- whether or not they attend, whether or not they graduate and so the very first day, the first week of the school year are critical junctures for a healthy school year and a healthy learning life for a child,” Carstarphen said.  “I make a big deal out of it because it is a big deal, and we want our families to understand that too.”

Later, Carstarphen stopped at Boyd Elementary School where she visited a couple of classrooms and spoke to students. 

At Boyd, students in one fourth grade class began the day by learning their classroom rules and reciting the school pledge in unison. 

“I will be a good listener,” they promised.

“I will have pride in myself, my school, my family and my community,” they said. 

APS enrolls about 52,000 students. A district spokesman said there were no reports of major problems in the morning. Stormy weather caused a brief power outage at Therrell High School, but power was restored.

Atlanta, Cobb, Cherokee and Decatur students returned to class today. Students in Gwinnett, Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton will be back in school on Aug. 6

You can get an inside peek at your school, its test scores, safety rating and other information in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ultimate Atlanta School Guide.

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