Sixth- and ninth-graders in the Western Foothills School District had their respective schools and teachers all to themselves on Wednesday as the first day of classes got under way.

Bus drivers could be heard as they lined their buses up in front of Mountain Valley Middle School at the end of the day, “Here they come!”

And out the door came the youngest of the middle school grades.

Having the students moving into new schools return alone helps set the tone for the students for the whole year, Mountain Valley Middle School Principal Ryan Casey said.

“It gives them a chance to meet the teachers, to tour the building,” he said. “We tell them what the next three years will be like.”

Grades seven and eight return Thursday, as do grades 10, 11 and 12 in the Western Foothills School district’s three high schools in Buckfield, Dixfield and Rumford and three middle schools in those same towns.

At the middle school, Casey said they expect about 105 sixth-graders. The three grades combined will be almost 290.

George Reuter, principal of Buckfield Junior/Senior High School, said having sixth-graders alone for the first day was a good chance for them to get to know their space, to renew acquaintances and get to know their teachers.

“It’s been a nice, relaxing day,” he said.

This was the first new school year for the combined three districts. The only thing different, said Reuter, was the school buses. They were identified as Western Foothills RSU 10, rather than the former SAD 39, SAD 21 or SAD 43.

And in the Dixfield region, Dirigo Elementary School Principal Kathy Richard said the opening day for all kindergarten to grade five youngsters went so much more smoothly this year than last when the new school, located in Peru, opened for the first time.

All the glitches that inevitably appear when a new building opens were ironed out, she said.

Every child who came to school in any of the merged district’s 10 school buildings Wednesday, and for the rest of the school year, received a free breakfast.

Student enrollment was up at Rumford Elementary School by about 30, said Western Foothills Superintendent Tom Ward. Final numbers for the start of the 2009-10 school year will be clearer by the end of the week, with the official tally coming sometime in October. They are expected to be 3,000 or a few more, said Ward.

In SAD 44, based in Bethel, Superintendent David Murphy said the start of the school year couldn’t have been smoother.

He said he visited all five district schools during the day.

Enrollment is about 925. All youngsters from kindergarten through 12 began classes Wednesday.

“There were no surprises,” Murphy said.

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Sixth-graders prepare to board their buses from Mountain Valley Middle School after completing the first day of school for the new year. Ninth-graders also had a chance to get to know their high schools when they began classes on Wednesday, as well. All elementary children started school at the same time.

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