Grayden Wetzel woke up thinking Friday was a normal school day.
The 10-year-old even went to the bus stop like he does every other day.
But his mom ushered him back, reminding him that she would be driving him to school as Friday was a special morning: the 13th annual Albuquerque Aloft.
Grayden, his sister Piper and his mom got there just before 7 a.m. at the first flying event of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
With coffee or cocoa and doughnuts in hand, the field began to fill with other families at Edmund G. Ross Elementary School just as the sun came up, finding spots on the field around two multicolored balloons.
Principal Amanda Stavig explained Albuquerque Aloft is open to all community members, and even some out-of-town visitors stopped by the school located at 6700 Palomas NE.
“It brings the community to the school campus,” Stavig said about the Title I school. “People in this community don’t go to things because they may not have the funds.”
The principal said there’s about 500 kids at the elementary school, which made for a packed event with everyone’s guests.
As the balloons began to fill up and with every rush of the flame, the kids cheered.
Aubree Renfro, 5, even began jumping with joy.
“Look at this really huge balloon!” the kindergartner said, pointing while maintaining her hop.
Aubree was ready for the balloon to take flight, the anticipation seeping.
“I want them to ‘Let it go’, ‘Let it go’ like Elsa,” she sang, referring to a character in the Disney film “Frozen.” “It’s gonna go high to Jesus!”
Aubree, who is in her first year at E.G. Ross, is no stranger to balloons, she explained, describing a time when she got to go inside the basket.
Carol Adie, crew chief to balloon “Hopscotch,” said the weather was ideal Friday morning to take off. The pilot and crew of Hopscotch also handed out balloon cards while teaching the kids about ballooning.
E.G. Ross was one of 70 Albuquerque Public Schools that were part of Albuquerque Aloft, where hot air balloons launch or tether from school grounds. Rio Rancho schools, private schools and charters also participated.
APS spokeswoman Johanna King said the Balloon Fiesta works with APS and the pilots to determine who gets assigned to an individual school.
Thousands of people come out across the schools, she said.
Aloft began in 2005 – APS has participated since then – and is marketed as the only Balloon Fiesta event that launches from sites outside Balloon Fiesta Park.