Jockey Hollow Middle School Principal Julia Strong greets a parent bringing his child to school Wednesday morning.

Jockey Hollow students embark on the first day of school


Principal Julia Strong wore a yellow raincoat and held an unopened umbrella in one hand, while she stood in Jockey Hollow Middle School’s long driveway on a cloudy Wednesday morning. It was the first day of school and Strong greeted parents in a growing line of cars, trucks and SUVs, who had come to drop their children off at school.

She directed drivers to the back of the Chalk Hill building, where they would line up and wait for School Resource Officer Michael Panza to direct them to the front of Jockey Hollow after the buses arrived.

The first bus arrives at Jockey Hollow Middle School for the 2023-24 school year.

“We have that three-tier parking lot, so we have to be creative about our traffic flow in the morning,” Strong said of the parent drop-off. “This is my usual spot on the first day of school, to direct them. And it gives me a chance to see everyone — and I do get to see some family dogs.”

“Welcome back,” a smiling Strong said, while looking into the open window of a pickup truck and greeting a father who brought his daughter to school. “I hope you have a great first day!”

Once all 565 students arrived, staff had 10 minutes to get them to their homerooms.

On the sidewalk in front of Jockey Hollow School, two girls ran up to Krista Lee, a para-educator for sixth grade. “Mrs. Lee!” they called out, before giving her a hug, then heading into the building.

“I’m excited to see my friends from last year,” Lee said, before turning her attention to a boy who got off his bus. “What’s up Michael?”

John Biase, a music teacher starting his 30th year, helped children at a crosswalk in the parking lot. “A lot of the same emotions attend each opening, definitely,” he said. “It kind of harkens back to the same excitement of my first year.”

By contrast, Nicole Waibel, a special education teacher, is starting her second year. “I definitely know what’s happening,” she said of having one year under her belt. “It’s nerve wracking, so being acclimated is good.”

Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza was among the staffers greeting students. Earlier that morning, he was at Masuk High School and he planned to head to Fawn Hollow Elementary School after Jockey Hollow.

“You see a lot of smiles at middle school and high school,” he said. “There may be some tears at the next school with kids going to kindergarten for the first time.”

“I’m so happy to be welcoming the students back — and our new students,” Strong said. “On my way in, I saw a whole family waiting at a Masuk bus stop and it reminded me that the first day of school is really a town-wide celebration every year.”

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