By Joe Earle
joeearle@reporternewspapers.net

New lunchboxes stood at the ready, packed with peanut butter sandwiches or turkey rollups. Katie Lantier modeled her brand-new school clothes.

After all, Aug. 9 was a big day in the Lantier house. It was the first day of school for both Katie, who’s 4, and her brother Davis, who’s 6. They both were first-timers in their new school, Ashford Park Elementary. Katie was headed to pre-K, Davis to kindergarten.

“It’s fun,” Katie said.

The only problem: Davis didn’t want to get out of bed.

Crossing guard Cecil Drummond helps a family across the street on the first day of school at Ashford Park Elementary School.

Still, there was plenty of action in the Lantier house as the family prepared for the first day of school, a day marked on the calendars of many Brookhaven households. Soon hundreds of families would head to the school and pause to snap photos as snappily dressed children with bright new backpacks and lunchboxes headed off to their first classes.

The Lantiers were excited about the school. They were involved with Ashford Park even before their children enrolled. Mom Sheila Lantier chairs the fledgling school foundation, set up to raise money for programs at the school.

“The school is amazing,” she said. “The community is amazing. We’ve been here 10 years and we’ve watched it change and grow through the years.”

They’ve gotten to know many of their neighbors through preschool or through community projects such as the development of the nearby park, dad Todd Lantier said.

For the start of school, Kathy Williams, a neighbor from around the corner, dropped by with her children, 5-year-old Jack and 8-year-old Taylor, to join the Lantiers for the trip to school. Jack and Taylor, too, wore their new Ashford Park uniforms of khaki shorts or skirt and white or blue shirts.

“This year is the first year we’ve had uniforms,” Sheila Lantier said.

Williams said switching to uniforms made back-to-school shopping easier this year. “It’s been great going to Wal-Mart and Target,” she said.

“I remember my first day of kindergarten,” Todd Lantier said. “I was wearing these orange cutoffs – it was, what, 1972 or 1973? – with this macrame belt that hung down to my knees. And that’s what I wanted. … I think the uniforms are a great idea.”

Katie Lantier, 4, new lunchbox in hand, pauses at the entrance to Ashford Park Elementary before she heads to her first pre-K class.

Taylor, for one, had been so excited about going back to school this year that she couldn’t get to sleep the night before. “I’m excited,” she told her mother. “I’m not excited about the work, but I’m excited about school.”

Sheila Lantier escorts her son, Davis, to his first day of classes at Ashford Park Elementary School.

Todd Lantier admitted that he was in some ways less worried about how his children would handle the first day of school than about how Sheila would react. “I put a handkerchief in her pocket, knowing she would need it,” he said. “This is going to be a long day.”

Soon it was time to head to school. Davis still wasn’t up, so Sheila stayed behind to get him moving while the others headed over to Ashford Park Elementary.

At the school, Katie posed with Taylor and Jack as Todd Lantier snapped their portrait in front of the school sign. A few minutes later, as Katie walked up to the entrance to the school, her father recorded the moment on video. Then they headed inside. Dad held Katie’s hand as they walked into the school.

A few minutes later, he was back. “Katie was fine,” Todd Lantier said. “She was like, ‘OK dad, bye…’”

After a few more minutes, Sheila Lantier and Davis appeared. Todd Lantier joined them as they rushed into school to try to beat the bell.

“As soon as he walked through the door, he was like ‘Oh yeah…’” dad said.

When Davis walked in and saw his friends in his class, he joined right in, Sheila Lantier said. “He said, “This is awesome.’ ”