OVER 30,000 STUDENTS from Stockton Unified School District began their first day of the 2023-24 school year Thursday morning.

Renu Gaba, mother of two students at Peyton Elementary School, said her youngest child was excited and ready for the first day of classes by 5 a.m.

“I’m honestly excited to send them back to school,” Gaba said about her 6-year-old and 9-year-old children.

Renu Gaba receives a kiss on each cheek from her children Gouri (left), 9, and Ditya Gaba, 6, before they head to class on their first day back after summer break at Valentine M. Peyton Elementary School in Stockton on Aug. 3, 2023. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Other kids such as 3-year-old Sofia, who would be attending her first day of preschool, held onto their parents’ hands a bit tighter.

Sofia wore a bright pink backpack and walked alongside her mom to her new classroom.

While many students had not been inside a classroom since summer break let out, teachers, staff and administrators returned to campus earlier in the week following an all-staff kickoff event Monday.

Nearly 4,000 district staff members gathered at the Stockton Arena for the celebration then visited their respective school sites to decorate classrooms, attend trainings and get curriculums started.

Leading the start of the school year will be new superintendent Michelle Rodriguez, who started the position earlier this month after leaving Pajaro Valley Unified School District in the Watsonville area.

The Stockton Police Department encouraged parents and residents to slow down, follow speed limits, and be careful while driving through school zones.

“Please drive like it is your child, grandchild, niece or nephew walking or riding their bike to school,” Chief Stanley McFadden said in a statement. “Pick-up and drop-off times can be hectic, but it’s important to be patient and stay safe as children are getting to and from school.”

Parent Angie Duran drops off her children Lyric Carroll (left) and Ava Carroll on their first day back from summer break at Valentine M. Peyton Elementary School in Stockton on Thursday. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Police also advised parents who have children who will be walking or biking to school to teach them safe walking and riding behaviors, such as looking both ways before crossing the street, using sidewalks when possible, and crossing at marked crosswalks with stop signs or signals.

Victoria Franco is a reporter based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. She is a Report for America corps member.

Victoria Franco is a Stockton-based reporter covering the diverse news around the Central Valley as part of the Report for America program. As a Stockton native, Franco is proud to cover stories within her community and report a variety of coverage. She is a San Jose State University alumna with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism. In her collegiate years she was Managing Editor for the Spartan Daily. From her time at the Spartan Daily she helped lead her staff to California College Media Awards and a General Excellence first place. Victoria encourages readers to email her story tips and ideas at victoria.franco@baycitynews.com.