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Anxiety, tears start first day of school

By Trina Trice

With stoic faces and some shedding tears, Clayton County's youngest students embarked on their first day of school Monday.

Most students didn't appear to mind leaving behind a summer of fun and leisure.

"I'm happy," said Phillesia Evans and Douglas Hope, kindergarten students at Fountain Elementary School, as they walked through the school's entrance while holding their parents' hands.

Armed with colorful backpacks, the school's more than 519 students either arrived on school buses or were escorted by their parents to their classrooms.

Kindergartner Jessica Lancaster will usually ride the bus with her older sister, a third-grader. However, Jessica's mother Donna Lancaster thought it best that they go together for the first day.

It wasn't until reaching her new classroom that Jessica started to cry, "Mom, I don't want to go to school."

Jessica's emotional plea didn't surprise her mother.

"I already knew it was going to be a little crying," Lancaster said. "When I was getting her ready this morning, she was fine. She was a little nervous, but she was fine. She's a little shy anyway ?cause she's always been around me. When I left her she was still a little sniffling."

Tears from students, or parents, aren't as much of a regular occurrence these days, said Dr. Tonya Mahone-Williams, principal of Fountain Elementary School.

"Most kids have already gone to some program, so (Monday) wasn't their first time being away from home," Williams said. "That's why we also encourage parents to come to open house to get the child familiar with the surroundings."

Open house is key for easing the transition from home to school for both parents and children, said April Madden, principal of River's Edge Elementary School.

Most of the county's elementary schools had open houses last week.

"I didn't have any crying," Madden said who visited all of the school's classrooms to make sure teachers and students were adjusting smoothly.

But there is the occasional child who will cry.

"We try to reassure the child that everything's okay," Williams said.

Clayton County Schools began the 2003-2004 school year Monday, as did many other metro Atlanta school systems, such as those in Fulton and DeKalb counties. More than 50,000 students are registered to attend the Clayton County's 54 schools.