BEMIDJI -- Standing side by side, Ella and Mariah were ready for their first day of first grade when they stepped through the doors of Horace May Elementary on Tuesday. The two students were in the same class last year and were headed into the new school year as part of the same class as well, ready to face the year together.

Ella and Mariah were among the thousands of students throughout town and across the state who were headed into the first school day of the year after summer vacation came to an end over the Labor Day weekend.

“It’s so much fun; the first day of school is one of the best,” Horace May Elementary Principal Kathleen Van Wert said.

In addition to the high school and the middle school, the district includes the elementary schools of Central, J.W. Smith, Horace May, Lincoln, Northern, Gene Dillon, Paul Bunyan Elementary and Solway. District-wide, there are roughly 5,000 students enrolled in Bemidji Area Schools.

There also are a number of charter schools throughout the area, including the newly formed Aurora Waasakone Community of Learners.

Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz wasn't able to take part in the district's first day of school since he is still recovering from a recent ATV accident. Although there's no definitive date for when he will return, he indicated he will return within the near future.

Horace May was one of the schools to see a slight transition this year due to one of the final stages of reshuffling throughout the district. The recent construction of Gene Dillon Elementary, which houses the district’s fourth and fifth grade students, allowed more room in the various other elementary schools in town.

The kindergarteners were concentrated at Paul Bunyan Elementary, but were scheduled to return to the various other elementary schools once the construction of Gene Dillon was completed.

So, the kindergarteners who used to attend Paul Bunyan Elementary will now return to those other elementary schools. That transition began last year at some of the other schools, but this will be the first year that kindergarteners who live in the Horace May area will attend that school instead of Paul Bunyan Elementary.

“Our current first graders were at Paul Bunyan last year, so this is their first step into Horace May,” Van Wert said.

On Tuesday at Horace May, young students smiled for the camera in front of the large sign on the outside of the building. Teachers and administrators warmly greeted the students as they made their way into the building.

Even before she’d set foot in the building, Ella knew what part of the day she was looking forward to.

“My favorite subject is going on the playground,” Ella said after clarifying that she was six and a half years old.