NEW YORK CITY — Children across New York City donned their most fashionable duds Thursday morning to head back to school.
Joining a record 114,000 charter school kids who began their school year earlier this week, 1.1 million students were expected to show up bright and early Thursday — including 5-year-old twins Floyd and Ona Chambers, who were so excited that they talked over each other outside P.S. 147 Isaac Remsen in East Williamsburg.
“Who my teacher is gonna be?” said Ona, before her twin bother butted in to finish her sentence.
"What she looks like?" Floyd asked. "What she teaches us and what the classroom looks like?”
In Park Slope, May Hoo, whose son and two daughters attend P.S. 321, said her kids were ready to hit the ground running.
"We're very excited to start the year," she said.
Her daughter Carrie-anne, 8, couldn't wait to catch up with her friends while her sister and brother were looking forward to hitting the school jungle gym.
"I'm excited to play on the monkey bars," said Sarahbeth Hoo, 5.
At P.S. 43 in Mott Haven, Arriana Clark, 5, said she had a list of things she was looking forward to on her first day of kindergarten, including days chock full of "playing with blocks and eating snacks."
"Inside, there are teachers there," she said proudly.
Arianna Clark outside P.S. 43, in Mott Haven. (DNAinfo/Kate Pastor)
Among the biggest changes this year is the expansion of free lunches to all public school students, regardless of a family's income, which advocates are hopeful will break down the stigma of school food and ensure that more kids don't go hungry so they can focus on learning.
“We’re erasing all the terrible history of the school food program not only in New York City, but nationally, that has divided children by income,” said Liz Accles, executive director of Community Food Advocates, which spearheaded the Lunch 4 Learning campaign. “We’re done with that. This is a new day.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio's signature education program, Pre-K for All — which provides free pre-kindergarten for all of the city’s 4-year-olds — is now expanding to 3-year-olds, starting in the 1,600 seats in high-needs areas of District 7 in the South Bronx and Brownsville’s District 23.
Shanequa Lewis, 27, and her daughter Jhamiya, 8. DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan
There are 10 new schools opening across the city, adding 5,000 seats, and existing schools are getting an extra 2,000 seats, according to Department of Education officials.
More classrooms are expected to have air conditioning, with 2,000 classrooms outfitted with the units this year as part of a five-year effort to extend to all classes. Additionally, all schools are required to designate single-stall bathrooms by January to support the privacy needs of students, including those with disabilities, as well as transgender and gender non-conforming students.