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As Harford students start a new year, Havre de Grace Elementary celebrates 1950s style

More than 37,000 Harford County Public Schools students went back to school for the 2016-2017 academic year Thursday. Havre de Grace Elementary School children rode the bus with Superintendent Barbara Canavan, and they celebrated with a 1950s party.

It was back to school for another year for more than 37,000 Harford County Public Schools students on Thursday morning, as well as for those who attend many of the local private schools.

As students arrived at the county's 54 public schools, getting acquainted with teachers and trying to get settled in, Havre de Grace Elementary School students and parents were treated to a 1950s-themed celebration as the children entered the building for their first day of the 2016-2017 school year.

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The front lawn of the school resembled a scene from the hit film "Grease," with vintage cars and trucks, rock 'n' roll songs from the time blaring over speakers and faculty and staff dressed up in leather jackets, T-shirts and poodle skirts.

Harford County students head back to school Thursday. (Matt Button / BSMG)

Principal Ronald Wooden, who was wearing a gray sweater with a maroon "H" on it, noted the school opened in 1950, hence the 1950s theme.

"We are so excited that you all have come to celebrate the beginning with us!" a pumped-up Wooden announced as families gathered on the front lawn.

A small dance floor had been set up near the front door, and staff members danced with children as they arrived.

A select group of Havre de Grace Elementary students got to ride the school bus with Barbara Canavan, Harford County Public Schools superintendent, her top aides, members of the Harford County Board of Education and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman.

The first-day ride with the superintendent is an annual tradition for the start of the school year.

Students were surprised when they got onto a bus filled with adults, but they warmed up and chatted with local officials.

Glassman, who had a 1950s costume with jeans and a T-shirt with rolled-up sleeves, noted the bus was among the new buses the school system purchased new year to replace aging vehicles. His administration provided additional capital funding for the replacement buses.

The group traveled through the Havre de Grace neighborhoods around the Juniata Street school.

Glassman greeted a member of his cabinet at the school – Paul Lawder, director of inspections, licenses and permitting, has two children who are students there.

Lawder and his older son, 7-year-old Gage, who is in second grade, chatted with the county executive. Lawder's 5-year-old son, Wyatt, is in kindergarten.

Havre de Grace Elementary has 450 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.

Lawder said school administrators hold a large celebration during the first day each year.

"I think it's the best-kept secret, I really do," he said of Havre de Grace Elementary. "For the last three years, I am very impressed with this school."

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Parent Farrah Stewart, of Havre de Grace, walked her 8-year-old son, Zakir, to the front entrance.

He danced with Beverly Lennox, an inclusion helper who works with students with special needs.

Zakir, who is in second grade, said he was looking forward to "learning."

Third grader Brandy Glenn, 8, embraced her classmate, Skyler Carlos, also 8 years old. The pair socialized with fellow third grader, 8-year-old Nicole Moore.

"I'm looking forward to my education and to get into college," Skyler said – she does not know what she wants to study yet, though.

"I'm looking forward to getting honor roll this year," Nicole said.

Brandy said she is looking forward to "getting my education too, and to get a job."

Wooden, the principal, stressed that a top goal at Havre de Grace Elementary is to "celebrate and enjoy life."

"School should be a happy place, where [students] feel loved and cared for and safe," he said, adding: "We're going to make sure we provide them with the best instruction strategies."

A mass of parents surged toward the front entrance. Lennox, the inclusion helper, stood at the doors to greet them. A sign over her head stated: "The best students in Harford County enter here."

"[It's] awesome to see their smiles, mingling with other people, being friendly, interacting," said Lennox, who is starting her 10th year at Havre de Grace Elementary.

She said everyone at the school "works right as a group to get along, help each other."

Gay Lynn Price, who taught at Havre de Grace for 12 of the 36 years she was with the Harford school system, was on hand Thursday to see her two grandchildren start the year. She retired from teaching in 2014.

"I'm seeing some of my students bringing their kids here, so it's very cool," Price said.

Her grandson is in kindergarten, and her granddaughter is in fourth grade.

"It's his first day in the big building," she said of her grandson, noting pre-K students are in a separate building.

Price said her granddaughter is also excited to be on the second level of the two-story main building.

"That's the big kids," Price said.

Price's two children also attended Havre de Grace Elementary. She and her daughter both live a few blocks from the school.

"It's a downtown environment, so it's a real community feeling," she said.

Speaking from her own experience, Price recommends that teachers should be "very welcoming and go with the flow of it and just relax."

"You always get very nervous about the first day because you want it to be just right, for yourself and the kids," she said.

Skyler Carlos, right, embraces her third grade classmate, Brandy Glenn, as they return from summer vacation for the first day of school at Havre de Grace Elementary School Thursday.
Skyler Carlos, right, embraces her third grade classmate, Brandy Glenn, as they return from summer vacation for the first day of school at Havre de Grace Elementary School Thursday. (DAVID ANDERSON | AEGIS STAFF)
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