Gilroy – Sarah Haas stood in her driveway appearing as anxious as she felt.
The sixth-grader wasn't sure what to expect of the day she officially abandoned the cocoon of elementary school for the sometimes harsh, definitely angst-filled, world of middle school. The friends she spent five years with at Antonio Del Buono Elementary School were split between three public schools.
And her best friend, Sam, will spend the next three years at Ascencion Solorsano Middle School. Although a few of her buddies are enrolled at South Valley Middle School, Sarah said her nerves were rattling " 'cause all of them (the students) are older than me."
Like all Gilroy students, Sarah headed back-to-school Thursday after nearly three months of summer vacation. But unlike the vast majority, the 11-year-old spent the day sampling her first taste of all the adult-like elements of junior high.
Sarah was ready to snap her locker open – having practiced the combination for quite awhile – but may not have been prepared for the emotion that flushed over her minutes before school started.
Before stepping onto the South Valley campus, Sarah teared up a bit while embracing her dad.
"It's amazing how fast they grow up," Jim Haas said, adding that he remembers the day he sent his older daughter to her first day of middle school.
As Sarah wiped away the tears, she pulled out her schedule from the black messenger bag slung across her shoulder, to check out her classes once more. In the first classroom she found a group of her friends from elementary school and slipped into her desk before the bell rang.
Once settled in, the ADB alumni chatted about their first-day jitters, which ranged from concerns about bullies to being the youngest on campus to changing for gym class.
"I got so nervous walking in because people are looking at me like 'Sixth grader,' " said 10-year-old Anupreet Gill said.
Sarah spent half of her day in CORE, which includes three periods of language arts and the second with one math and science teacher. Clustering the subjects helps ease the sixth-graders into middle school because it requires switching classes fewer times.
They switch once between CORE and math and also for physical education and their elective. And instead of having six different teachers, sixth-graders have four. Sarah Williams – Sarah's CORE teacher – said she inevitably spends the first day of school fielding questions from her nervous middle-school newbies.
She helps ease the pre-teens into the new environment and quells misconceptions.
"A lot of them think in middle school they're going to be thrown in a garbage can and beat up," Williams said.
But by lunchtime, Sarah's anxiety had subsided substantially. Over bag lunches and cafeteria food, she and her friends chatted about the day.
They talked about fashion, a few of the girls saying it took them forever to pick out a first-day-of-school outfit. But Sarah – decked out in meticulously layered white, green and pink tank tops, paired with polka-dot Vans – insisted that she "just grabbed something."
The girls also gave kudos to the cafeteria food, saying the pizza was so much better than the "fake" stuff they serve at ADB. When Sarah, who munched on her own homemade lunch, eyed a friend's fried chicken, she vowed to buy a school lunch the next day.
And when the subject of nerves came up, all the students agreed that middle school was way better than they envisioned.
"I like this school," Sarah said. "I love junior high school now."