Thousands of Calgary kids were back in schools today for the first time since summer break. In the southeast community of Mahogany, it was a particularly special first day as the new K-4 school officially opened to students.
"Oh my gosh, it's so exciting," said principal Tracey Kohan. "You can probably feel it in the air around here, and you can hear it in the kids' voices as they walk by."
She says welcoming students to a brand new school makes it a memorable day for everyone in the community.
"They've been watching this school grow, from the first shovel in the ground to the last solar panel on the roof. And then as the fences came down this past week, they're very excited."
Parents say they're happy having the new school in the area.
"I'm so excited for them to be at the new school this year. We don't have to drive this far, and we actually get a new environment," said parent Brittany Colby, who was dropping off her daughter Brooklyn at the school for her first day of Grade 4.
"She was at Riverbend last year, which we loved. But it's nice to be in a fresh, clean school, fresh teachers and just a fresh experience for her right down the street."
Parent Kanwal Shah agrees.
"I think it's easier now that my son doesn't have to take the bus. There is less commute time, he's home earlier and he can wake up a little better."
Students say they also appreciate a shorter commute — which for some has gone from a long bus trip to a quick run across the school's field.
WATCH | Calgary kids are back in school for the first time since summer break. For one southeast school, the return was particularly special:
"It makes me feel like I can sleep in way longer, and I like that," said Grade 4 student Miel Logan, who is most excited about her art class.
This is the first school year since the COVID-19 pandemic where Alberta students and teachers are not required to wear masks or abide by other health restrictions in schools.
And that's a relief for many families.
"She's been going to preschool before this, and daycare, and so we've kind of been through getting sent home and then coming back — and now it feels like things are stabilizing," said Jana Murdoch, who was dropping off her daughter at kindergarten.
"We're looking forward to hopefully having a normal school year for the kids where they can enjoy and not be disrupted."
Kohan says schools will still focus on some of the health measures in classes that were introduced in the past few years.
"We do have areas for them to spread out if anyone's feeling uncomfortable, and honestly, we value anyone's way or opinions when they come in. If they're wearing masks or not, we'll support all of our kids in that," she said.
"We do have lots of cleaning stations. All of our classrooms have sinks. We'll definitely encourage handwashing because really that's the best way to go, and staying home when you're sick is always important.
Mahogany school has 530 students enrolled so far with capacity to grow to around 600.
School board and city officials are reminding Calgarians to slow down in communities and to pay close attention in playground zones.
Jana Baker, 10, is taking on a lot of responsibility as a patroller at St. Josephine Bakhita School in Evanston, a northwest Calgary neighbourhood.
She volunteered because she wants to help her peers get to and from school safely, and she has a message for drivers.
"I want them to remember to keep an eye out for the patrollers, keep an eye out for kids crossing the street and stuff."
About 17,000 Grade 5 and 6 students will serve as crosswalk patrollers at 500 Alberta schools this year, according to the Alberta Motor Association.
The City of Calgary has launched a traffic safety campaign called Be Safe Back To School.
The Be Safe campaign asks drivers to Watch Out, Slow Down, Give Space, Park Smart and Be Courteous, among other messages, during the opening weeks of the school year.
Calgary police constable and school resource officer Mark Enzie says driver awareness is paramount.
"Watch for kids because they're gonna be excited seeing their friends and teachers again. Take your time, slow down and remember playground zones are all year."
Police are reminding parents and guardians not to park where it's prohibited during drop off and pickup times, and to avoid blocking crosswalks and driveways.
Calgary Parking Authority officers will be patrolling outside schools and talking to parents and drivers about respecting the rules of the road when it comes to parking near crosswalks, bus zones, laneways and private driveways.