Five-year-old Gregory Rice Jr., 5, was eager to go to kindergarten on his first day of school Monday at Belleville School District 118.
However, his family members with him weren't so ready.
"It's so hard not to cry," said his aunt Carol White.
Gregory waited patiently in front of a sign that read "Franklin" out front of Union School in Belleville. From Union, Gregory boards a bus and heads to his school -- Franklin.
His mother Erianna Miller fought back tears as well.
"I'm not leaving until the bus comes," she said.
Gregory said he was most looking forward to "playing on the playground."
Union Principal Lori Taylor greeted all the bus riders Monday as they arrived shortly after 7:40 a.m. Some students gave her high fives or hugs as they got off the bus; other students -- kindergartners -- didn't seem so sure, and she pointed them in the right direction.
A lot of the kindergartners were wearing dark blue shirts provided by the school that read "Making friends for life."
Kameron Austin, 5, proudly wore his shirt as his older sister Derrica Parker snapped pictures. Parker said she was lucky classes for her at her school -- Southern Illinois University Edwardsville -- don't start until Tuesday, and she had the day off from work.
The kindergartners who rode the bus gathered in groups near the front of the school until Supervisor RaMasha Harris took them into the building to their classrooms. Harris reminded the youngsters not to run.
School day begins
For the 29th year, Bonny Coyne -- wearing a bright teal dress -- greeted her first-grade class at Union school.
"Who is excited for first grade raise your hand?" she asked.
Almost all the students raised their hand.
Coyne then asked her first-graders to join her on the carpet for lunch count. Before asking each student what they wanted for lunch, she sang the song, "If You're Happy and You Know It."
After asking her first-graders to fold their hands and put them in their lap, she told them, "I'm so glad you are here today."
She then took their lunch order individually. Each student who didn't bring a lunch from home had four choices: sausage pizza, grilled chicken sandwich, chef salad or peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Coyne politely reminded the first-graders to use their good manners and remember to say please when ordering lunch.
A majority of her 20 students brought lunch from home; seven ordered sausage pizza, two PBJs and only one chef salad.
After returning to their desks, Coyne carefully showed the students how to properly open their wooden desks, which had hinged tops to allow for storage of school supplies inside.
She asked the students to take out their work box full of crayons and color a picture of a backpack while she entered the class lunch count into the computer.
First-grader Kirsten Pickens, with a yawn, pulled out a pink crayon to color her backpack picture.
Coyne said enjoys teaching first grade.
"I love watching them become readers," she said. "They are just so sweet and innocent and enthused to learn."
In elementary school, specialty classes like art, music and physical education are often referred to as "specials."
On Monday morning, art teacher Gail Lauth was already teaching first-graders in Mary Beth Tribout's class about professional artist Keith Haring.
"He uses lines to create movement," Lauth told the students.
When Lauth asked the students if they were ready to do some art, they yelled "yes" in unison.
She asked the students to draw five bubbles or circles on a white sheet of paper, which would serve as the heads of human figures they will create.
"Pretend you blew bubbles and they fell all over your paper," Lauth told the class. "You can't mess up."
First-grader Alex Sawyer drew his first circles too small, but Lauth told him he could start over. She just flipped over his white sheet of paper.
Lauth asked for student volunteers to strike a dance move pose in the front of class for other students to draw for the bodies of their five figures.
For 45 minutes one day a week, Lauth teaches art to Union students.
"Often times they will start a project one week and finish it the next week," Tribout said about art class.
Kindergartners at Union rushed onto the playground for morning recess shortly before 10 a.m. Monday.
The teachers brought sidewalk chalk for the students to use on the blacktop; the playground equipment was still too wet to play on from the weekend rains.
Kindergartner Naomi Ruiz drew a dragon on the playground. She's in Sue Slimack's class. Slimack has taught kindergarten for 28 years, 13 of those years at Union. Before that, she taught at Washington Elementary School.
Kindergarten teacher Jennifer O'Dell carefully outlined the bodies of students with chalk as they laid on the blacktop. This activity was in high demand, and it didn't take long for the black top to be filled with chalk outlines of students.
Twin sisters Caitie and Ellie Roberts were happy to find each other during recess. The sisters are in different classes. Caitie is in Slimack's class, and Ellie is in O'Dell's class.
They spent their recess time twirling around a pole until they got dizzy. Then they would stop for a few minutes before doing it again.
The school's day custodian Brad Krueger seemed to be just where he was needed throughout the day at Union.
In the morning, he served as the parking lot attendant, directing parents to drop off students in the back parking lot as the front lot is reserved for the buses.
During lunch periods, he made sure the trash cans all had clean bags in them so the students had a place to throw their trash away.
Later in the day, Krueger was upstairs helping fifth-grade teacher Renee Pipher unjam lockers so she could get textbooks, which were stored in the lockers over the summer.
The lockers at Union School were previously used at the old Central Junior High School, Krueger said, and replacement parts are not available any longer.
As they do every day during the year, cafeteria workers Carol Brown and Marsha Joellenbeck teamed up Monday to prepare lunch for the students at Union.
"We have been together a long time," said Brown, who has spent the last four years at Union.
Joellenbeck has been at the school a tad longer -- 6 or 7 years. She couldn't remember exactly how long. Both have children who went to school at Union.
Prior to lunch service, Joellenbeck assembled the chef salads and made the PBJs while Brown cooked the sausage pizzas.
"They don't like them really dark," Brown said of the pizzas. "Today being the first day of school, it's gone really well."
Lunch supervisor Betty McAdoo is another familiar face at Union, where she's worked for nine years. She helps the younger students find their seats at the lunch tables -- three on each side of every table -- and opens their milk for them if they are struggling with it.
McAdoo said she enjoys coming back to school. "I like all the excitement of the children. The kindergartners are just darling," she said. "That's what retired older people do we just keep coming back, because we love the kids."
Union School had a full house Monday, Taylor said with about 480 students. "It's been a great first day," she said. "This is a great school with great teachers."
And she hopes it's a "home away from home" for the students.