Tonayah Brown hopped on the Embarcadero Shuttle, grinning as she plopped down in the seat next to her friend Kerissa Almendis. Hip-hop music blasted from the shuttle's speakers and Tonayah, a Jordan Middle School student, sang along.
The two girls chattered excitedly about what it took to rise early on the first day of school.
"I set my clock for 6:30 and I woke up at 7," Kerissa said.
Tonayah and Kerissa were among the nearly 12,000 students heading back to Palo Alto public schools this morning. All along the sidewalks and roads of Palo Alto, children and their parents trekked from homes to schools.
Two children on bicycles kept pace with the shuttle on Webster Street. Brightly decorated in fluorescent vests and Hello Kitty bike helmets, the children led the procession of young pedestrians and bicyclists heading to Jordan and Walter Hays Elementary School.
Tonayah and Kerissa talked about their elevated status as seventh graders.
"Now we get to make fun of them," Tonayah said, recalling being at the bottom of the pecking order during the last school year.
"I'm really excited to see everybody. I'm eager to get there. My school is really fun and I hope I get good teachers," she said. Plus, "this year I won't feel like the smallest person in the school."
Kerissa sat back with ear buds in, volume turned up on her iPod. Last night she didn't sleep much, anticipating the first day of school, she said.
Emily Dorward, a Palo Alto High School 11th grader, also got little sleep, she said.
"It was dread," she said.
The end of summer, going back to school, "it's surreal," she said. "The last time -- last year -- it was this hot on the first day of school. I knew it was going to be this way," she said with the nonchalance of a seasoned pro.
Crossing guards, dressed in yellow vests as bright as the sun, halted traffic as the hordes of kids rushed with eager expressions toward the school grounds. The shuttle bus rattled and thumped, turning deftly around the corner from Newell Road to North California Avenue. The girls' excitement was palpable.
"Oh my GOD!" they gasped, as the bus pulled to a stop. They rushed through the shuttle's doors shrieking and ran toward the campus.
The shuttle driver smiled. Another school year has begun.