GLOUCESTER—— Kim Niccum rushed back to Gloucester County from a meeting in Virginia Beach Wednesday afternoon to watch buses filled with Page Middle School students arrive at Peasley Middle School for the first time.
As the buses entered Peasley's bus lane shortly before 1 p.m., Niccum, her sister and other Page parents snapped pictures and waved to students as they rode into the school's bus lot.
For Niccum, seeing her daughter and niece walk through the doors of their new school was worth fighting the early afternoon traffic during the more than 90-minute drive from the resort city, she said.
"It feels like the first day of school all over again," Niccum said. "I didn't know how I was going to do it, but I knew I had to be here."
Even though the last of day school is about two months away, many parents, teachers, students and school administrators in the Gloucester community experienced first-day jitters Wednesday as the county's middle school students returned to classes for the first time since last week's deadly tornado.
For Peasley and Page faculty, staff and students, it was also the first time the two rival schools would share the same building and operate on a split schedule.
The school division had to alter its middle schools' schedules after Page was heavily damaged during the tornado. The school will not be operational for the remainder of the year.
Under the new schedule, Peasley students are picked up by their buses 30 minutes earlier, beginning classes at 7:15 a.m. They are released by 12:45 p.m., while Page students now attend class from 1 to 6:30 p.m.
On Monday and Tuesday, teachers and administrators from both schools worked together to figure how to make the transition seamless for Page students, as well as faculty and staff members.
Rusty West, a Page pre-engineering teacher whose room was destroyed by the tornado, didn't make big plans for the first day.
"I think tomorrow's going to be one of those days where we sit down, regroup and get our feet under us and have a good attitude and go forward," said West on Tuesday.
Shortly before noon on Wednesday, phones rang constantly in Peasley's main office as parents sought more information about the school schedule.
Page teachers, equipped with rolling suitcases, boxes and hand trucks stacked with supplies, also arrived early to begin setting up for the day.
Adrienne Jarvis decided to drop off her son, Marc Griffin, a Page sixth-grader, to see how the new schedule would work.
Jarvis said she'll probably have to pick up her son from school every day because the new school schedule conflicts with her other children's activities.
"It's going to make things a little more tight, but we'll make it work," Jarvis said. "I know the school division is handling things the best way they know how."
Dolly Busch, whose niece Nicole Rigney attends Peasley, agrees.
"It's hard to place 580 students in one school and these kids need to continue getting their education," she said.
Nicole said her new school schedule will take some getting used to, but she likes getting out of school earlier.
"I hadn't really thought about what I'll do with the extra time," said Nicole, a Peasley eighth grader. "I'll probably go to church or tan."
At 12:45 p.m. Peasley students were dismissed for the day; five minutes later their buses were pulling out the lot and Page's buses were turning in.
The Page students were greeted by the cheers and waves of Peasley teachers and administrators, who held banners welcoming them to their new school.
Niccum said she thinks the welcome helped boost student morale.
"Normally when you go to a new school you get some type of orientation, but they weren't able to do that," she said. "All their school activities are now done for the year because of this and it kind of takes their spirit. I think this was boost they needed."
Andrea Griffith said she was moved by Peasley's support of the students.
"The community is really coming together," she said.
Daily Press reporter Matt Sabo contributed to this report.