Oak Elementary School students started their first day back to school Tuesday with cheers, high-fives and a peek at their possible futures.

About 30 South Albany High School cheerleaders, volleyball players and members of the boys soccer team formed a welcoming lineup Tuesday and cheered on each returning student as they approached the school doors.

Oak Principal Kelly Bussard organized the celebration after being inspired by a YouTube video of adult mentors at a school in Illinois gathering to welcome children back.

Oak's 336 students are part of South Albany High School's attendance boundary, so Bussard called Principal Brent Belveal to see if he would send a welcoming committee.

"I so want my kids to be excited about becoming a Rebel," Bussard said. "I want them to be encouraged, and just really excited to come back to school." 

Classes started Tuesday for most schools in the mid-valley, with the exception of Lebanon, which reopened at the end of August. Kindergarten begins next week.

At South Albany, however, only freshmen started Tuesday. Older students weren't scheduled to be back until today, which meant they could spend Tuesday morning at Oak.

Bewildered students toting backpacks and lunch boxes approached the cheering lineup with wide eyes. Most eventually scooted through, wearing sheepish grins, although a few opted to take the long way around to avoid the waving pompoms.

Jazmynne Wheeler, 10, starting her first day of fifth grade, was one of the more enthusiastic participants. "It's fun!" she said with a grin. "Is it from South?" 

Parents beamed and shot video as the South students gave high-fives and shouted, "Have a good first day!"

"That's cool! That's amazing!" commented Amanda True, whose son, Cameron, is starting third grade. "He (Cameron) is like, 'What is this?' I said, they're gonna cheer you on!"

At least six of the visiting Rebels are Oak alumni and said it was a strange feeling to welcome the smaller versions of themselves — and to see some of their former teachers.

"Joey? Oh my gosh, Joey!" first-grade teacher Leanna Bennett exclaimed, rushing to welcome 18-year-old Joey Barrientos, now a South Albany senior and soccer player."You're taller than me!"

The athletes said they voluntarily gave up their last free morning to welcome the Oak students, saying they wanted to encourage the children to stay in school, have a great year and eventually join South Albany athletics. 

Cheerleader Valeria Guillen, a sophomore, said it wasn't hard to get up for the event. "They want to be welcomed on their first day," she explained. "We want to!"

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