The sights, sounds and smells of a new school year were in the air Monday morning as more than 20,000 Aiken County students returned to school – but it's the taste that Jackson Middle School band director Randy Hood is looking forward to.


“I'm teaching my children's children. I'm still excited, and I'm nervous,” said Hood, who is starting his 34th year as an educator. “I really am looking forward to seeing how the kids are this year. Each class has its own flavor to it, so I like to see how it's going to taste this year.”


Around the rest of the county Monday, kindergartners clutched parents' hands as they inched into a classroom for the first time, while high school seniors beamed about their last “first” day of school, and somewhere in the middle, students looked forward to things such as the school dance and having their own lockers.


'So far, so good'

School District Superintendent Dr. Beth Everitt visited several schools on Monday.


“So far, so good,” she said Monday afternoon.


Everitt said Monday's commute went well, save for some minor issues with traffic at Kennedy Middle School and a mechanical issue with a bus at Aiken High School.


“We didn't have any major bus issues. Everything seemed to be on time,” she said.


Officials were still conducting head counts on Monday afternoon, but Everitt said she didn't expect any major changes in student population in the county.


“We're so pleased to have the students back, and the teachers are ready and excited to have them back,” she said.


'A familiar face'

Finally having the students in school after a summer of “heavy lifting” by the teachers makes the work worthwhile, according to John Metts, assistant principal of Millbrook Elementary School.


“We do all the heavy lifting in the summertime, and then they show up with smiles on their faces. It makes a difference,” he said.


Back at Jackson Middle, principal Jason Holt stood in front of the cafeteria and welcomed students as they were dropped off by their parents. It's something he does every day, not just on the first day of school.


“I have two children of my own,” he said. “For me, I would want to see someone, a familiar face, in the morning when I drop my children off and know that they are taken care of.”


Kindergarten teacher Christina Troutman saw her share of nervousness at Byrd Elementary on Monday, though much of it came from the parents.


“We have a lot of mommies who are really nervous, and sometimes they're more nervous than the kids are,” she said.


'The start of a new life'

Emotions among students were mixed on Monday.


“I'm ready for my first day of kindergarten, because I want to make some new friends,” said Lillian Doolittle, a kindergartner at Byrd Elementary School.


Kimberly Glanton, a seventh-grader at Jackson Middle, saw pros and cons to a new school year.


“It's work, but you get to see your friends,” she said. “And all the activities you get to do are fun, like Pajama Day, when you dress up in your pajamas. Then you have the dances that also are a lot of fun.”


At Wagener-Salley High School, freshman Seth Green was nervous.


“Actually, nervous a lot,” he said. “I don't know what's going to happen today or the rest of the year. It's just the start of a new life, because after this, it's off to college.”


Tanesha Friday, a senior at Wagener-Salley and Green's cousin, was in the same position just a few years ago.


“I don't know what I'm most excited about for this year, but I am nervous because college is coming up,” she said. “There's the SAT and all of that other stuff that goes along with college. My words of advice to my cousin: Be who you are, and if you need any help, you can come to me.”


Aiken Standard reporters Dede Biles, Maayan Schechter and Derrek Asberry contributed to this article.


Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard.