Five-year-old Bryleigh Thurnau got a surprise when she opened the mailbox at her Belleville home -- a bright yellow ball addressed to her.
"We'll have a BALL in kindergarten," was printed in large letters on the ball, a handwritten note from Jayne Crews, Bryleigh's kindergarten teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School in Belleville.
"I was excited," Bryleigh said when she found the ball in the mailbox.
Bryleigh started getting the mail earlier this summer, and her mother Amber Thurnau said getting the ball in the mail helped settle Bryleigh's nerves about going to kindergarten.
"It showed her that things are going to be fun there," Amber said. "It was something for her and something so unique."
Bryleigh said she is most looking forward to making new friends at her new school.
She won't be alone at Roosevelt. Her older brother, Ayden, 10, is a fifth-grader. Their dad is Bryon Thurnau.
Bryleigh and her brother have been having fun with the ball since it arrived.
"They have been bouncing it all around the house," Amber said. Bryleigh even asked if she could take it to school.
"One time my grandma came over, and we played with it," Bryleigh said about her yellow ball.
This is the first year Jayne and fellow kindergarten teacher Val Martin mailed balls to their 42 kindergarten students.
Jayne said Val's daughter received a ball in the mail once from a family member when they were going on a vacation together, and they thought it would be a cute idea for their students.
"We do have a lot of fun at Roosevelt," Jayne said.
They went to a dollar store and purchased balls, then wrote a message on them for each of their students.
Unlike most things mailed, a ball doesn't need packaging, Jayne said. The post office places postage directly on it.
"I didn't even know that was possible," said Roosevelt Principal Craig Hayes. "What a great idea to get kids excited."
He hopes kindergarten students feel welcomed into the Roosevelt family. The school's motto is "home away from home."
"We hope they get that feel," Craig said.
Jayne estimated it cost between 60 and 90 cents per ball to mail. The balls cost $1 each. The project was funded by the Parent Teacher Association at Roosevelt.
"It's so fun to see them opening their mailbox, and there is a ball," said Jayne, who received a lot of photos from families of students. "It gives them a warm feeling to know that somebody cares about you and thinking specifically of that child. Who doesn't love to get a toy in the mail or mail in general; to get something physical that you can touch and play with from your teacher. What a fun thing."
Last school year, Jayne and Val sent punch balloons to each of their students in the mail. They were a lot more work than the balls. "We blew up 58 of those, wrote on them and then deflated them," she said.
Other metro-east elementary schools have their own traditions to welcome kindergarten students.
For the last five years, Principal Randy Blakely said kindergarten students at Mascoutah Elementary School receive a purple T-shirt with "Look out kindergarten" on the front; "Here I come" on the back.
"It's a way for kindergartners to have their first purple shirt so they can be included in spirit day," he said.
The T-shirts are given to families during a kindergarten kickoff event held in April or May to get future students familiar with the school building.
Mascoutah Elementary has a large kindergarten population, 135 in all this school year, Randy said.
Roosevelt Elementary also gives kindergartners T-shirts as does Union School in Belleville. The Union shirts say "making friends for life."