The first day at York County's first K-8 charter school passed like the campus had been open for years.
Traffic, for the most part, flowed smoothly. Teachers guided parents, some with cameras to capture their little one's first day, to classrooms. Children took in their new surroundings.
Managing director Corey Helgesen delivered the morning announcements over the intercom: "Welcome to York Preparatory Academy."
Around campus, students, parents and teachers applauded.
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School bells rang in a new year for thousands of students across York and Chester counties Wednesday. Lancaster County schools started Monday. A handful of private schools are also beginning classes this week.
Despite a few hiccups, the first day in York County's four districts unfolded without fuss.
An Independence Elementary school bus scratched a car while turning into an apartment complex. Speeders were ticketed in school zones. Rock Hill Police received calls about traffic jams along University Drive and Bird Street leading to York Prep.
"Anytime you have a new school you get new traffic patterns ... and traffic problems," Rock Hill Police spokesman Brad Redfearn said. "Most of the time it works itself out."
York Prep is the county's newest public school. Open to any student in South Carolina, it's a charter school that emphasizes parent engagement as key to student achievement. Students and parents must sign a contract pledging good behavior and commitment to the cause. Parents are expected to get involved and volunteer when possible.
It's an approach that attracted hundreds of families to sign their students up for York Prep's enrollment lottery. School leaders expect to have 700 students, 550 of whom attended Rock Hill schools last year.
As a charter school, York Prep operates independent of any local school board and is free from some of the mandates that traditional public schools follow. While charters must teach state curriculum standards and show student achievement on annual tests, educators have flexibility to experiment.
At York Prep, for instance, there's no lunchroom. Students bring snacks and lunch to eat at their desks. Any student who forgets food and students who qualify for subsidized meals, get lunch from Earth Fare, a Cherry Road supermarket specializing in natural and organic food.
"It feels like a family," Marion Holiday said after walking her daughter to kindergarten Wednesday morning.
"It's almost a hybrid home school and private school that's open to everybody," her husband Randy added. "We're excited."
For a time, some, including York Prep's founders, doubted whether the school would open at all.
While area school districts have spent the last two years cutting budgets to manage a shrinking stream of state money, York Prep has been dealing with its own challenges.
Two deals to build a campus that included a high school fell through, and founder Craig Craze, while scrambling to find a campus for the school, scaled back to K-8.
Organizers also faced criticism from local community activists about a lack of diversity among students.
Craze eventually struck a deal to lease the former Trinity Christian School campus in Rock Hill. Still, some families bailed.
But as several hundred children walked into classrooms for the first time, many with bright smiles, worries melted away.
"The setbacks that we had really kind of purged those that weren't really committed," Craze said. "We just ended up with a solidified, cohesive group of parents that went through a lot of adversity."
Enrollment figures - including student demographics - won't be available until the 10th day of school.
Craze has his eye on the future.
"Getting to school, that's just chapter one," he said. "Now the real work begins. We have to start delivering academic results."
For the faculty and volunteers who spent months preparing the campus, Wednesday brought a sense of relief and excitement.
"I have had the best parental support of any school I've worked in," said Jenny Schultz, a sixth-grade English and social studies teacher who said she has taught in Rock Hill, Chester County and Atlanta schools.
Down the hall, Darrose de Guzman, an 11-year-old sixth-grader, fiddled with her locker.
"So far the place is pretty nice," she said. "But the lockers are giving me trouble. They hate me."
And first-day jitters didn't help.
"I'm really nervous because I'm in middle school now and I'm not familiar with it," Darrose said. But she's optimistic. "I'm not one to complain."
Heather White, who volunteers as the school's spokesperson and has helped plan since the beginning, was one of several parents who stopped to help students like Darrose with lockers.
Later in the day, White stopped to reflect.
"This is what everybody said we couldn't achieve," she said. "And we did."