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Chesterfield Students head back to school on staggered start dates

CHESTERFIELD, Va - The final whistle of the summer blew at the Walton Park neighborhood pool in Chesterfield, and a collective groan could be heard from kids and parents. The closing of the pools across Central Virginia is a clear sign that the school year starts for most students and teachers tomorrow.

“You know I have almost a pool family that I get to see in the summer that I don’t see during the year,” said Kate Ray, who’s children spent most the day splashing in the pool with their friends. “I think all the kids just love, they see their friends from school, and can come out and play with them here.”

Most public school students in Central Virgina begin the school year September 3rd. In Chesterfield, the region’s largest school district, school leaders are trying a new program of staggered start dates for younger students.

The first day of school for kindergarteners depends on their last name. Those with a last name that starts with A-L report to school September 3rd and 4th, and students who’s last name starts with M-Z report September 5th and 6th. All other elementary school students report on September 3rd.

For older students, 6th and 9th graders and new students at a school begin on September 3rd, and the rest of the students begin the year on September 4th.

"Staggered start times are expected to create a smoother transition between school levels and allow staff members time to build strong relationships with students and parents in support of continued academic and social emotional growth,” the district writes on their website.

Jenny Quarles is part of a split start date family. Her daughter, Ellery, begins 2nd grad on Tuesday, but her kindergartner, Emmett, begins his school career two days later.

“It’s hard to start on different days. At five, they don’t really understand why the big brother or sister gets to get on the bus,” Quarles said. "They’ve been waiting, they’re psyched, they’re ready to go and now they’re going to have to wait two days. You can tell them, but they really don’t understand.”

While those adjustments are temporary, the Quarles family has already begun shifting their routines to better structure their rest and work around school.

"Good sleep. Trying our best. Being patient with ourselves and others,” Quarels said about their new routines. “We’re also, like, in denial a little bit. They keep on trying to sneak out of bed and stay up a little later and try to get one more movie in.”

The Quarles, like all the families at the Walton Lake pool Monday, are sad to see the end of summer, even if it means more structure in the day.

“I work full time so these moments are rare for me anyway, and so the long nights of summer, I’m going to miss,” Ray said.

“It’s bittersweet for the; it’s bittersweet for the parents too,” Quarels said.

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