HUNTINGTON - Few days in a child's young life command as much gravity as the first day of school.
It's a unifying experience shared among Americans: a symbolic step in the growing-up process, new lessons to learn and new faces to share them with. That's not to say there weren't a few first-day nerves rattling in the adults that day, too.
Like the clockwork it's always been, that first day again arrived Wednesday as Cabell County Schools welcomed students back to class from Cox Landing to Salt Rock, Culloden to Central City.
At Southside Elementary, Hannah Osborne's fifth-grade class seemed like it had already been together for years. It's a relatively small school; all the students knew her, and seven of them had siblings who had her as a teacher before them. She knew all but a few by name already - making it a point to learn all the fourth-graders' names the year before, which helps take the edge off a new experience in a higher grade.
That first-day feeling is the same now after eight years of teaching as it was when she was a student at Ona Elementary, Osborne said. Those school experiences are as timeless as doodling the "Cool S" or folding origami fortune tellers.
"People talk about, 'Well, kids these days are different!' But none of that has changed," Osborne said. "And I'm still excited to learn like I was as a student; that's part of the reason why I became a teacher."
Across town, it was an exceptionally important first day in Amy Maynard's long career in Cabell County Schools. After 25 years as a classroom teacher, academic coach, supervisor and assistant principal at five different schools, she was promoted to principal at Meadows Elementary over the summer.
It's been a smooth fitting-in process for Maynard, a Huntington native who has taught with many of the Meadows staff elsewhere, or taught some of the younger teachers as an adjunct professor at Marshall University. A few students are even the children of those she had as elementary students years earlier.
"It just felt like home; it felt like this is where I'm supposed to be," Maynard said. "I just always trusted things would work out the way they were supposed to, and I feel like they have."
Having a school of her own as principal has long been a goal, but it does come with its new quirks, particularly in the operational side of "getting all the ducks in a row" that come with administering a school, she added.
The Meadows position was vacated with controversy last school year when the former principal, Connie Mize, was fired in connection with her handling of a school intruder situation in January. The situation prompted the Meadows Parent-Teacher Organization to file a petition of "no confidence" in Mize before the Board of Education.
That wasn't a topic of discussion, but Maynard made clear what she wanted her imprint on the school to be.
"I want parents to know their children are loved and welcome, and they're going to get the best education they can right here in a public school," Maynard said.
Cabell County's last day of school is May 22.
Other schools beginning Wednesday were Boyd County, Kentucky; Lincoln County, West Virginia; and several schools in Lawrence County, Ohio.
Huntington St. Joseph and Our Lady of Fatima in Huntington, as well as Dawson-Bryant in Ohio, begin school Thursday, Aug. 15.
Grace Christian and Rock Hill schools begin Monday, Aug. 19. Elsewhere in West Virginia, Mason County begins school Aug. 21, and Putnam and Wayne counties begin Aug. 22.