Students were not the only ones who woke up early and spent the day going from classroom to classroom as the first day of the new school year arrived.
Howard County Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin and school board Chairman Frank Aquino were up and out early, visiting seven schools Monday as part of Cousin's annual ritual.
The two started at Howard High School just before 7 a.m., where 125 staff members, playing percussion instruments, welcomed students back to school. The teachers toted drums and formed "rhythm circles" near the school's entrance as buses pulled up.
Cousin said he was impressed by the display of enthusiasm.
"It shows the spirit of the school," he said.
Aquino said the goal was to build community from the start of the school year.
"It was an interesting, novel way of bringing them together," he said.
Cousin and Aquino then went to Reservoir High, where teachers had a similar musical welcome for students. The pair also went to Cedar Lane School, Lime Kiln Middle and Fulton Elementary. They finished the tour with stops at Clarksville Middle and Pointers Run Elementary.
About 49,000 students returned to 72 Howard schools this week, and Cousin and Aquino visited campuses to see how the students and teachers made the back-to-school transition. Cousin and Aquino met with administrators, teachers, parents and students.
At Cedar Lane School, Cousin and Aquino were given a tour by Principal Paul Owens, who told them about inclusion classroom efforts that bring students at Fulton Elementary to his school for music, art and media classes.
"This used to be an experiment," Cousin said of Cedar Lane, which is geared toward children with severe developmental disabilities. "This goes to show that it works, and it works well."
Cousin, who asked the principals about employee staffing during each visit, learned that the staffing at Cedar Lane was adequate.
"Do you have everything that you need?" Cousin asked Owens as they walked into a preschool classroom.
"We hired someone at the last minute," Owens said enthusiastically. "We got a good one."
At Fulton Elementary, where some employees welcomed students with large nets to "catch last-minute butterflies," Cousin learned that every teacher at the school returned this year.
"It made for a much quieter summer," Principal Karen Moore-Roby said with a smile.
At Lime Kiln, Principal Brenda Thomas said students had a very smooth transition on their first day back.
Cousin and Aquino were given a reusable cloth grocery bag, which corresponds to Lime Kiln's Green Schools environmental program.
Howard County, which has built 35 schools since 1981, is one of the few school systems in the Baltimore region not opening a new school this year.
"It's the first time in 20 years," Cousin said. "That is because our population growth has slowed. We've stayed ahead of the curve by providing facilities as needed."