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Summer's over: School is in session

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Nisswa Elementary School Principal Molly Raske gets a hug from a student on the first day of school Tuesday, Sept. 3, while greeting students and parents with first grade teacher Lisa Miller (left) and Brainerd School Board member Ruth Nelson outside the school. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal
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As it does every year, the sound of bus doors opening signaled the end of the summer of 2019 and the start of the 2019-20 school year at area schools.

Students in the Pine River-Backus, Pequot Lakes and Brainerd school districts - among many others - returned to their classrooms on a fall-like Tuesday morning, Sept. 3, to begin another year of learning.

Students walking into Nisswa Elementary School were greeted by many teachers and staff wearing black T-shirts with brightly colored words, "Happy First Day of School." Those people included Principal Molly Raske.

"You can't wear it the second day - only the first day," Raske said while excitedly greeting students and parents outside the school Tuesday morning with happy hellos and raised arms.

Brainerd School Board member Ruth Nelson also greeted students and parents outside Nisswa School, where many photos were taken of students next to the "Nisswa School" sign.

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Inside the school, the only sign of ongoing construction work was an entrance that's blocked to make way for a secure main entrance next year and a few classrooms that no longer have windows to make way for a two-story classroom addition and gym addition. Work will continue on those additions through the school year.

Students didn't seem to mind as they greeted each other in the hallways or posed for one more first day of school photo for Mom and Dad. Avery Ager posed next to her locker with a sign announcing she was a kindergartner, her teacher's name and more interesting information. A couple of other students posed for photos with flowers in hand.

Teachers' moods were good as they welcomed students back to school.

"The start of the year has been seamless," Raske said midday in an email. "The students are back and we are loving it. The construction project continues outside as we grow our kids inside; it has just been the best day. Looking forward to another epic year at Nisswa Elementary School."

In Pequot Lakes, the first day went smoothly enough at the middle school level, although an enrollment that exceeds projections presented plenty of challenges.

“Growing enrollment trends have PLMS bigger than it's ever been,” Principal Mike O’Neil said. “This growth has exciting challenges associated with it. Purchasing more lockers for physical education classes, going after ‘flexible seating’ options because we're having to reconfigure our classroom arrangements to get a couple more desks in the room - these are but a couple examples of some exciting times at Pequot Lakes Middle. We feel confident that our growth (that continues to go beyond our annual projections) is a direct reflection of the quality experience provided at PLMS.

“We are thankful for our dedicated staff, who treat kids as if they were their own, and make a difference every day.”

At the high school level, Pequot Lakes Principal Aaron Nelson said excitement was high and the energy in the building on the first day of school was very positive.

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"We have had a great start in terms of people's excitement for the start of a new school year at PLHS," Nelson said. "It's fun to see all the new students who are looking for great opportunity, many who have moved here from other states."

Nelson said the first day of school tends to be a bit rocky as "the machine starts up and gets running," but things quickly came together as they should in Pequot Lakes.

"By afternoon, students were back in form and the energy of the place was electric as students reconnected with friends and talked about what the school year would be like."

One year removed from opening a new facility, Crosslake Community School’s first day of the 2019-20 school went more smoothly than the previous year’s first day did, said Director Todd Lyscio.

“We have had a very smooth start to the school year,” Lyscio said. “Now that we have been in the building for a year, there were many systems already in place from how parents drop off and pick up, to how lunch lines work, etc. Knowing how things worked last year made it a pretty easy transition, and our veteran students have done a great job of assisting new students on where to go and what to do with our daily routines.”

Lyscio also said the school is now home to 265 students - an increase of 17 students from last year’s first day - with “a few enrollments still in process.”

At Pine River-Backus, elementary students were met by Rick Aulie on his mission to give a high five to every student on their way off the bus and into the building.

"As always, the first day of school is an exciting time for everyone. We had a wonderful time welcoming students back for another terrific year," Aulie said.

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Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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