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School's in session
3 new elementary schools report easygoing first days

LAWRENCEVILLE - Principals at three new elementary schools in Gwinnett County reported smooth openings Monday, as open house and other summer activities allowed students to acclimate to the buildings before the first day of the academic year.

Mulberry Elementary School Principal Vivian Stranahan said there were "no new school bumps in the road," and the 510-plus students who came to the Auburn school Monday were able to immediately start their course work.

"Today is a very important day," Stranahan said. "The families and community have watched this building (and anticipated its opening) for the last 18 months."

In Buford, Patrick Elementary School had a smooth opening as well, Principal Margaret Ackerman said.

"It's been a great day, which is a big tribute to our staff members here," she said.

At Lovin Elementary School in Lawrenceville, students toured the building and played games to get to know their classmates, Principal Laurie Allison said.

"The children were very excited," Allison said. "They were able to find their classrooms and their teachers."

Pierce Mercier, a fifth-grade student at Lovin, said he was looking forward to attending school in the new building.

"I'm excited about music and art," he said.

Other schools in the county reported a smooth transition into the new school year.

Berkmar Middle School's open house eliminated potential first-day confusion, Principal Kenney Wells said.

"Most students entered the building knowing their teacher and knowing where to go and went right to their classrooms," he said. "The teachers were waiting for their students and greeted them with smiles."

At Riverside Elementary School, Principal Craig Barlow told the parents of kindergartners they could call the school at any time during the first day, and an administrator would go to the classroom and check on their child. He assured parents their children would be OK - staff members would help them open milk cartons during lunch and children would be allowed to go to the bathroom every time they asked, even if they asked to go 50 times.

The parents gathered in the cafeteria Monday morning for coffee, pastries and fruit for "Cheers and Tears," a PTA-sponsored program that allows parents of kindergartners to commiserate.

"Most parents don't realize what an emotional day it is," Riverside's PTA President Maria Cleveland said. "This allows them to be together with other parents."

Gina Thomason said she cried as she watched her daughter get on the school bus. She and her husband, John, followed the bus to school and came inside for the breakfast.

"I think the parents need the love and support more than the kids," she said.

Candace Garrett said she's looking forward to attending field trips with her son, Dylan, and watching him interact with other children and seeing how he learns.

Garrett, who attended Riverside's breakfast, said she cried the night before school started but managed to make it Monday morning without any tears.

"He's definitely ready, but I wasn't ready," she said of her son starting school.

Other than a few expected tears, the only problem Monday was also an expected one: delays in bus transportation.

"All reports are that our first day has gone very smoothly," Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said. "Even in the area of transportation - which is always more challenging at the beginning of the year as students, parents and staff learn their routes - our morning routes were completed earlier than in previous years."

Wilbanks said there was a lot of excitement in regards to the new schools that opened, which included the three elementary schools, a replacement facility for the Oakland School called Oakland Meadow School, and the county's charter school, Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology. A startup charter school, New Life Academy of Excellence, also opened Monday.

"But systemwide the first day is always something to celebrate," Wilbanks said. "For those of us in Gwinnett County Public Schools, it is good to be back in school."