Sakai Principal Jim Corsetti gives a welcome back pep talk to students on the first day of school. (Brian Kelly | Bainbridge Island Review)

Sakai Principal Jim Corsetti gives a welcome back pep talk to students on the first day of school. (Brian Kelly | Bainbridge Island Review)

Sakai students get rousing welcome back

It was the first day of school at Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School — the school’s 20th ever — and Principal Jim Corsetti was ready to pump up the volume.

With the entire student body standing in the parking lot in front of the school, Corsetti gave an energetic opening day pep talk to Sakai’s new crop of fifth- and sixth-graders.

“Turn it up!” he shouted.

“That’s what we are going to do all year long!” Corsetti exclaimed, and added, “Our school goes to 11!”

The principal then gave the students a surprise pop quiz. Raise your hands, he asked, if they wished summer vacation was still going.

Dozens of hands went up.

Then he ask who was glad to be back in school.

A like number shot up.

It was not only the start of a new school year at Sakai — one of the few remaining 5th/6th grade intermediate schools in Washington — but a chance for fifth-graders to meet their combined class for the first time.

“Fifth graders — you are the Class of 2026,” Corsetti told them.

“Whaaaaaaa?” he jokingly added.

Get to know each other, he said. “These are your peeps.”

To the sixth-graders, Corsetti reminded them they constitute the Class of 2025.

“Parents are fainting over here,” he said, turning to the adult audience for the all-school assembly.

“Goes quick,” he told the parents. “Just saying.”

Corsetti also made note of the special guests at the ceremony, including Kay Sakai Nakao, from the school’s namesake family; Maryann Sakai Arnone,

Sonoji and Yoshiko Sakai’s granddaughter; and Jo Vander Stoep, the first principal of Sakai.

Wednesday’s first-day-of-school opening ceremony included plenty of advice for the Sakai students. Sixth-graders Gretchen Johnston and Reed Grandt said it might seem nerve-wracking at first, but their Sakai experience will be one filled with new friends, fun times, caring teachers and a supportive staff.

“Today will seem like one big puzzle,” Reed said, but the pieces will soon fit together.

District Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen recounted his first day of fifth grade, and his lifelong secret for success: “Always maintain hope.”

Three things were key, he added. Believe in yourself, believe in others, and believe in your dreams.

“Dream big,” Bang-Knudsen said. “And have a great first day.”

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