BAXTER-Gray skies and rainy weather were no match for the smiling faces and excited chatter filling the halls of Baxter Elementary School Tuesday, Sept. 4, for the first day of classes.

"We are very excited," Principal Tammy Stellmach said. "We're super excited to have parents and kids back in the school again, and staff are eager and excited to be here."

Roughly 525 students at Baxter Elementary scattered throughout the building Tuesday, meeting their new teachers and bidding farewell to parents, who felt a combination of nerves and excitement.

"I'm sad that summer's over, but I'm really excited to see how the year goes," Joy Krueger said as she dropped off her daughters, Marian and Lauralyn, for their first days of kindergarten and second grade.

"I'm a little nervous, but she's doing awesome," Heidi Martin said of her first-grader, Qwin.

Teachers shared some of those same emotions.

"I'm excited to be back. This is my second year, so the first year I felt a little bit more nervous than now," first-grade teacher Leah Bahr said, noting she's most looking forward to meeting all her students and getting to know their unique personalities.

Stallmech, in her first year as principal at Baxter Elementary, can't wait to introduce students, teachers and parents to two new programs this year-the Baxter Kindness Project and the all-star reading program.

The kindness project has students focusing on a different topic each trimester, with the first one being unity.

"We're very excited about building some positiveness and some teamwork," Stellmach said.

The other two topics for the year are random acts of kindness and gratitude.

With October designated as anti-bullying month, students will learn to focus on kindness instead of bullying and will each decorate a shoe and pledge to "stomp out" bullying.

On Sept. 17, Stellmach said the school will roll out the new reading program theme-which is still under wraps-with an assembly where students will all get T-shirts to celebrate a renewed focus on literacy.

"Our vision," Stellmach said, "is to create and maintain a safe and positive culture where everyone can succeed."