The sun wasn't shining on Fairfield's students as they made their way to classes for the start of a new academic year Thursday morning. A light drizzle fell in the early-morning hours, but students were greeted at the town's 16 schools with plenty of smiles from principals, teachers and even parents.
Some parents of Roger Sherman Elementary School students even watched their children board their buses and then hopped in cars and headed to the school, where they arrived ahead of the buses. They stood along the street waving and photographing the youngsters as they exited the buses.
"First day, only child, so this is the first of everything for us. She was excited. Mom and dad were nervous," said Davi Tash, whose daughter Brooke, 4, is a kindergartner at Sherman.
"Love you!" Ben Tash called out to his daughter, who will be 5 on Sept. 12. He blew kisses to her as he stood outside her classroom.
They were among hundreds of parents and other relatives who walked with their children to school or showed up to meet the buses. They gathered inside for Sherman's annual Tears and Cheers event and many lingered outside on the grounds after classes began.
"This school is the heart of the community," said Principal Eileen Roxbee. The large turnout of parents for the school-year start demonstrates that, she said.
"It's the coolest group of parents. Everybody is so involved and so passionate about the school," said Christi McEldowney, president of the Sherman Parent-Teacher Association. She said residents of the neighborhood drew closer together after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on their streets last fall.
Alli Beggs, the mother of fourth- and second-grade students, said the Tears and Cheers event is a great way for parents to network and catch up with people they have not seen all summer. It also allows them to get involved in PTA activities, she said. Sign-up sheets were available for numerous PTA-sponsored programs.
"We are so blessed to have such a wonderful school and community. Roger Sherman has wonderful teachers," said Helene Salerno, who watched her children, John, 10, a fifth-grader, and first-grader Sophia, 6, board a bus on Reef Road before racing to the school.
John Salerno described his feelings as "in the middle" about returning to classes. "I want to see my friends and I don't want to do any school work," he said.
Reef Road was also where Jack Walsh, 7, waited for his bus with his mom, Jenny Walsh. Many buses were late on Thursday, and Jack, who had never taken a bus to school before, wondered when his would arrive. "Is this it?" he asked his mother as dozens of buses passed by.
At Roger Ludlowe Middle School, new Principal Megan Tiley's smile greeted students at the entrance. It was the sunny disposition of crossing guard Marie Timpanelli that kept students entertained as they walked to the middle school Thursday. Timpanelli sang to some of them, "Wake up! Wake up! You sleepy head; get up, get up, get out of bed," and encouraged others to put more spring in their step.
"I love it. I love these kids," said Timpanelli,
who has worked as a crossing guard in town for a year.