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Back to school: Festive 1st day at Grace McWayne in Batavia

BATAVIA – As Katy Perry's "Roar" played on speakers set up nearby, teachers emerged Monday morning from Grace McWayne Elementary School in Batavia, holding up signs to help students and their parents find the right place to line up.

The music was courtesy of the school's principal, Jeff Modaff, who described himself as a "retired" disc jockey. Parents brought cameras, and their children posed with their friends and teachers. Some kids climbed on playground equipment. And more than one parent said the first day of the school year at Grace McWayne feels like a party.

Modaff, who said he was excited to be starting his third year as the school's principal, said the first day of school should be treated as a special occasion.

"We want everyone to know this is a very important and significant day in their life," he said. "We celebrate it."

Batavia School District 101 welcomed students back to school Monday. Other local school districts – Kaneland District 302, St. Charles District 303 and Geneva District 304 – will get started Wednesday. Lisa Hichens, District 101's superintendent, said the school board wanted to end the first semester before winter break, and that can be achieved by starting two days earlier than other local districts and cutting down on institute days. Also, she said, the school year should end before Memorial Day, unless the district is forced to close school on some days because of weather conditions.

Hichens was at Grace McWayne on Monday. She said the opening day of a school year is "an important day that sets the stage for the entire year." Earlier in the morning, she was at Batavia High School to help students get acclimated to their Chromebooks, which are now issued to all students in sixth grade and above.

By about 8:30 a.m. at Grace McWayne, a half-hour before the first bell and a few minutes before the music started, students and parents were visiting the sign in front of the school. The kids would pose, and the parents would shoot pictures. It didn't take long for a line to form.

Joyce Brown had her fourth-grade daughter, Meredith, stand in front of the sign for a photo. Joyce Brown said she was excited to see the day, but said of her daughter, "I'll miss her." She said the excitement built around the first day for an elementary school student was different than that of her son, Grant, who is starting his senior year at Batavia High School.

"He just went to school," she said.

Meredith Brown said she was ready for the first day of school and that she was happy to find out her teacher assignment, adding, "she's good." But she added that she was a little sad to see the summer vacation end.

"It flew by so fast," Meredith Brown said.

Janet Star stopped by the sign with her children, third-grade twins Carrigan and Kyle and first-grader Ryan. She said she was looking forward to the music celebration, calling it "really a fun way to start the year." She said the back-to-school time is "bittersweet."

The party playlist included a few pop songs, as well as a couple of songs that fit the occasion, such as "Welcome Back," by John Sebastian, which served as the theme for the TV show "Welcome Back, Kotter." Modaff talked with parents, students and teachers, and students flocked around their teachers. A second-grade teacher, Kelly Woodard, was holding some flowers given to her by Jennifer Consigny, a parent who said she buys flowers for all of her children's teachers, calling it "our little family tradition."

"We always give flowers to teachers," Consigny said, adding that she was a teacher and knows that the gesture would be appreciated. Woodard said it was nice, adding "I love my flowers."

Woodard said she was excited about her 14th year at the school. She said the first day includes "a lot of getting-to-know-you time."

Modaff addressed the students and parents, welcoming them to "a fantastic new year at Grace McWayne." After a few words, he asked parents to "give your children one last high-five, hug or kiss and say goodbye." And with that, students made their way into the school.

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