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Seven months and a day after their school burned, Crestline Elementary students and staff were reunited under one roof for the first day of school Wednesday.
On Wednesday morning, hundreds of enthusiastic children burst from yellow school buses in front of the temporary Crestline at the former Hewlett-Packard campus on Southeast 34th Street. As another bus pulled up to the sidewalk, Jane Olschewsky, a Crestline playground monitor, dropped her clipboard to prepare to greet the kids.
"Hello! Welcome back, honey!" Olschewsky greeted a child with open arms. "I give all the nana hugs. That's my official job," she said.
Like all the Crestline staff, Olschewsky wore a red school T-shirt that read "Crestline Lions" on the back and on the front, "We can do hard things."
She and other staff members were greeting bus riders and writing bus numbers on the back of students' hands to help them board the right bus home at the end of the school day.
After writing one boy's bus number on his hand, Olschewsky hugged him and said, "You're a kindergartner! You're on your way."
Standing near the school's front doors, Bobbi Hite, the principal, greeted students and helped them find their new classrooms.
"Good morning! Hello!" Hite greeted. "Does everyone know where you're going? Do you know who your teacher is?"
After the Feb. 3 fire destroyed the school, classes had been divided by grade level and for the remainder of the year hosted by five different elementary schools in the Evergreen school district. On Wednesday, Crestline students converged at their new temporary school, meeting up with friends and hugging teachers.
A group of four older boys sauntered with the coolness of elementary school upperclassmen toward the front doors. When asked what grade they were in, three of them replied in unison, "Fifth grade."
That elicited an animated "Triple jinx!" from the fourth friend.
The triple jinx was met with rolled eyes and smirks from the other three.
Julian Pasquel, 11, Jayden Palmer, 10, Hunter Fromel, 10 and Payton Rush, 10, were starting their last year at Crestline Elementary. Next September, when the new school is completed at the site of the fire, these boys will be in middle school. They won't have the opportunity to attend the new Crestline.
But for now, one said that being together with the entire school again was "good," but that the site in a business park was different from their old school.
"At open house, we saw coyotes running through the field," Payton Rush said.
Then they headed into their temporary school in a former inkjet printer factory for another new beginning.
After the bell rang, Beth Lawson's fifth-graders sat on the floor in a semi-circle around their teacher, who explained classroom procedures. Another teacher's voice drifted in from an adjacent classroom. The temporary school's rooms have high walls, but no ceilings. The building's ceilings are high above the classrooms.
"We do not have a ceiling," Lawson explained to her students. "As you can hear, it's going to be a little bit noisy."
The students nodded, and Lawson began taking roll for these students who have endured many challenges since the fire. A little bit of noise would not deter them.
On her classroom's white board, Lawson had written: "Welcome back, friends! We've missed you!"