The Harford County superintendent of schools, accompanied by the county executive and a state senator, made her annual bus ride with students to celebrate the opening of the school year.
Several schools rolled out a red carpet to welcome students. The faculty at Roye-Williams Elementary in Aberdeen went formal, wearing top hats and white gloves for the morning arrival. And Harford Technical High School added black and yellow balloon arches to its doors.
"It is all about making students feel welcome, excited and motivated on the first day of school," said Teri D. Kranefeld, schools spokeswoman.
Most officials got off the bus headed to George D. Lisby at Hillsdale Elementary in Aberdeen and greeted children and their parents.
"I think most parents were really surprised to see the superintendent and all those officials," said Kranefeld, a fellow bus rider.
Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas chose the elementary for what has become her back-to-school tradition of riding the bus with students. It also is the home base for Harford's teacher of the year, Ronald Wooden, who greeted students as they got off the bus.
County Executive David R. Craig and state Sen. Nancy Jacobs went along for the ride, as did several school board members.
In all, 2,568 classroom teachers throughout the county welcomed 38,173 students to school Monday.
"It was the smoothest opening in the four years that I have been here," said Kranefeld, who saw her 5-year-old off to kindergarten. "There really were no glitches."
At Fallston Middle School on Mountain Road, school officials added musical flourish to the red carpet to greet the approximately 900 students in grades six through eight.
"We try to make it an exciting welcome for the kids," said assistant Principal Micah Humbert, who got the idea three years ago while watching celebs parade the carpet at the Oscars.
At 7:45 a.m., the Fallston curtain went up.
Shiny balloons bobbed in the breeze, and driving rock and roll - music usually used to motivate physical education students - blasted from a boom box hooked to an iPod. As 32 packed buses pulled up over the next 20 minutes, Humbert and Principal Kaye Blome encouraged kids to walk on the red carpet.
"I'm not walking on the red carpet," answered one cheeky boy, who sauntered in just next to the rug.
But most students followed directions.
The festive start didn't do much for seventh-grader Nick Bondura, 11.
"I'm bummed out that summer is over," he said. He'd spent the summer boating with his grandfather, and visiting the state fair and Dutch Wonderland amusement park. Even cutting the grass, he said, was better than going back to school.
He wasn't the only kid feeling this way.
"I wish it was a whole year of summer," said 12-year-old Travis Greenwood, a seventh-grader. He said he'd spent much of his summer at the pool.
But Travis' friend Taylor Hillman, also 12 and in seventh grade, added a twist: He said Travis had called him a month ago and said he was looking forward to school.
Taken aback, Travis immediately sought to clarify his remarks.
"I wanted to see my friends, I wasn't talking about the whole learning process," he said emphatically.
At least one student admitted to being excited about the new year.
Eighth grader Clark Stratmeyer, 13, said he was looking forward to Spanish class. "I've always wanted to learn a new language," he said bravely.
For some students, the transition from sleeping in to early rising did not go smoothly. Thirteen-year-old Emily Oswald, an eighth grader, woke up late and missed the bus.
She woke up her older sister, Patricia Horney, who agreed to drive her to school. Horney, a student at Harford Community College, doesn't start until this week. She was planning to return to sleep as soon as the favor was over.
Emily and her friends were not particularly impressed with the ceremonial greeting. But Horney was: "I'm jealous. I never got red carpet and balloons," she said.
Rachel Noyes and Toria Smith, both 11 and in sixth grade, were nervous about their first day with the big kids.
"If you walk into the wrong class, you get embarrassed," Rachel said.
Both girls had spent a lot of time picking out the right first-day outfit. Rachel had a pink polo shirt with blue stripes, Bermuda jean shorts and flats; Toria had a Hard Rock Caf? Myrtle Beach T-shirt, shorts, and blindingly white New Balances.
Rachel liked the red carpet. "That's cool," she said. "It feels like they're welcoming us."
At around the same time a few miles away, at the intersection of Vale and Marchon roads in Forest Hill, a group of 25 or so parents were waving goodbye to kids getting on school buses, a storied first-day-of-school tradition at the Brighton Square development.
Beth Brennan had sent off her three children: sons Spencer, 16, an 11th grader at Fallston High School, and Jacob, 13, an eighth grader at Fallston Middle School, and daughter Jessie, 10, a fourth grader at Forest Lakes Elementary.
Brennan has been waving for 10 years. But her two older children were not happy with the ritual.
"It's no longer cool to have your parents around," Brennan said. "I say, 'We're allowed to come on the first day. It's our right as parents.' "
With all the school-age kids off, it was time to end the ceremony, with a parental breakfast at the Double T Diner in Bel Air.