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Loudoun Welcomes Thousands Back To School

© Leesburg Today - 08/31/2015

Loudoun County Public Schools welcomed back 75,555 students-2,322 more than last year's enrollment-and the county's private schools and homeschool programs also ushered in a new academic year for thousands of other student

It felt like the Benn family had been anticipating this moment for months, and now they could hear the rumble of the big yellow bus driving up their street.

""Here it comes,"" Adam Benn announced. His 6-year-old daughter, Eliza Jane, gave a nervous smile.

Today was the Benns' first child's first day of kindergarten. ""I've been holding back tears all morning,"" Molly Benn said. ""But, I know she's ready.""

It was a day of firsts for many in Loudoun County.

Just fewer than 5,000 kindergartners began their first school year Monday. Nearly 700 teachers taught their first lessons in the county's public school division. And 780 students opened the division's 88th school, Riverside High School in Lansdowne.

Loudoun County Public Schools welcomed back 75,555 students-2,322 more than last year's enrollment-and thousands of other students in the county's private schools and homeschool programs also ushered in a new academic year.

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Parents with cameras eager to document their children's firsts-whether it was their first day of elementary school or their first day driving to high school (yikes)-were just as prevalent as backpack-toting students in neighborhoods throughout Loudoun Monday. Kids headed back to the classroom after an 11-week break posed for photo after photo, for their parents, their grandparents and for this reporter.

""Just one more,"" second-grader Maddie Collins' father promised as he snapped pictures in front of Leesburg Elementary School.

The 2015-16 school year marks the beginning of the end for fifth-graders Mia Sirinsky and Oscar Benitez.

""Next year, I'll go from being the top of the school to straight to the bottom [as a sixth-grader at Smarts Mill Middle School], so I'm going to try to make the most of this year,"" Mia said.

Oscar has a lot to look forward to, as well. He's been chosen to serve as part of Leesburg Elementary School's safety patrol, which means he will help students and their families cross the street each morning. Plus, he is now among the oldest kids in the school.

""I'm ready,"" he said. ""All my life I've wanted to be a fifth-grader.""

Sean Murphy is happy to break in the new Riverside High School. He almost stayed at his former high school, Tuscarora, because of its guitar program. At the last minute, he decided to follow most of his friends and attend Riverside as a sophomore.

""I think I made the right decision,"" he said after walking the school's hallways for the first time. ""I actually really like it.""

Tyler Stevens' first day of sixth grade at Trailside Middle School was a success, thanks to some helpful advice from his older brother. Cade, an eighth-grader at the school, gave him tips to help alleviate the stress Tyler was feeling about navigating the hallways between classes.

""He said to get a big binder, put all my stuff in there so I don't have to go to my locker between classes. Because we only get five minutes,"" Tyler said. ""That makes me a little nervous.""

Principal Bridget Beichler, who opened Trailside one year ago, was eager to welcome a sixth-grade class of more than 400 new faces. She said having two-thirds of the student body made up of ""veteran students"" would make year two ""a little easier.""

""They can mentor the sixth-graders and show them the ropes,"" she said.

At Sanders Corner Elementary School in Ashburn, Principal Michael Jacques said even seasoned students of the school would notice something new this year. The building's desktop computers-and computer lab-have been replaced by a set of laptops for each grade level. This will mean more technology in the classroom, in line with Superintendent Eric Williams' One To The World initiative.

""We've been training for that over the last few days, so now we're looking forward to seeing it in action,"" Jacques said. ""It's a really exciting time for us.""

Still, it wasn't laptops or project-based learning that made an impression on 6-year-old Ayla in her first day of kindergarten at the school. It was a chant her teacher taught her and her classmates to catch their attention.

""We all say together, 'one, two, three,' and then be sure to listen,"" she said with wide eyes. ""It was awesome.""

As Jacques put it to one parent: One successful day down. Just 174 to go.

See a slideshow here, and stay with Leesburg Today Online for more back-to-school coverage.

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