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Gwinnett students hit the books on first day

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Moore Middle School students Kayla Hunter, a sixth-grader, far left, seventh-graders Latavia Thomas, center, and Jharia Gully make their way off the school bus Monday morning. Moore Middle is a brand new school which opened its doors to students for the first time yesterday.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Moore Middle School students Kayla Hunter, a sixth-grader, far left, seventh-graders Latavia Thomas, center, and Jharia Gully make their way off the school bus Monday morning. Moore Middle is a brand new school which opened its doors to students for the first time yesterday.

On the first day of school, there’s nothing nicer than a friendly face or a helping hand.

That’s Eileen Fagan’s philosophy. The 20-plus year veteran of Gwinnett County Public Schools stood at the entrance to brand-new Moore Middle School in Lawrenceville at 8 a.m., welcoming sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders with a smile.

She and thousands of other faculty, staff and administrators pointed more than 162,000 students toward their first class Monday morning as the young people eased back into the learning routine.

About 10 miles south, Parkview High School Principal David Smith welcomed back freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors from their summer break.

“Good morning ... good to see you,” he said as students shuffled by, class schedules in hand. He helped freshmen and the occasional senior with directions.

Also assisting new students at Parkview were 17- and 18-year-old veterans at navigating the Lilburn school’s hallways. Volunteers wore bright blue shirts with the words: “NEED HELP? ASK ME.”

TaQuilla Heard, 17, was one of the helpers.

“If they’ve got any questions, they can just ask me,” Heard said. She said most of her fellow students had inquiries about bus times and classes.

Asante McCalla, 17, donned the blue shirt as well. He stood beside a pages-long schedule taped to the wall. The students swarmed him, asking where to go.

“I’m just helpful by nature,” McCalla said, smiling. “It’s my weakness.”

Smith said helping students on the first day is a pleasure. “We want to get them where they need to be, and we’re here to help if they’ve got a question.”

As an administrator, he said, the key to a good first day is good planning.

“You need to try and be as prepared as you can be,” Smith said. “If you’re prepared, you can deal with problems as they arise.”

Principal Lamont Mays of Moore Middle agreed.

“A lot of planning leading up to today,” Mays said. “Parents are excited. They’re enthusiastic about a wonderful year that lies ahead. Our students are excited about too.”

Heather Thompson confirmed that theory. She dropped daughter, Morgan, 13, off at Moore Middle Monday morning for her first day.

“She’s nothing but excitement this morning,” Thompson said. “Morgan’s ready for it.”

Fellow Moore Middle parent Trin Knight said daughter, Gabi, 13, was “beyond excited” to start class.

When students like Thompson and Knight stepped in the door of the new school, they were greeted by a half dozen faculty members and administrators.

Fagan was among them. Like many students at Moore, she moved from Richards Middle School.

In 1988, when the school opened, she was among the first staff in the building. More than 20 years later, she remembers the secret to welcoming students to a new school.

“Instant hugs,” she said, laughing. “It’s comforting for the kids to see a familiar face in the building.”