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First day of school off to a smooth start

MANATEE — A single tear slid down Laurie Aldama’s cheek this morning as she stood inside her son’s kindergarten classroom at Oneco Elementary.

“I’m really excited for him,” Aldama said as she snapped a photo of 5-year-old Alexander as he sat at his desk coloring with a blue crayon.

Nearby him sat classmate Andrew Eason, who stared out the door window where his mother stood outside looking in.

“I don’t want him to grow up,” his mom, Sarah Woebke, said after taking one last glance at her son before walking away from the classroom. “When I was leaving Andrew didn’t cry. I think I’m gonna cry.”

The boys were among about 42,000 students in Manatee County who stepped inside classrooms for the first day of school today.

Prior to the school day’s start, crossing guards manned corners across the county as children boarded their respective buses.

Over at Palm View Elementary, school officials pointed lost parents in the direction of their children’s respective classrooms in an effort to get them to the right place on time. Inside JoAnn Lovett’s kindergarten classroom, it took three teachers about five minutes to distract a distressed 5-year-old student so her mother could slide out the door.

Across town at Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, Assistant Principal Terry Devine made a few morning announcements over a loud speaker as students gathered in their homeroom classes.

“So far things are going smoothly,” he said. The school this year will serves 1,300 students in grades six through 12.

Inside Samoset Elementary, Principal Scott Boyes spoke to a group of kindergarten parents and answered questions.

Posted in some of the school’s hallways were signs that read, “Welcome!” and “You’re off to a great start!”

Back at Oneco, the day was particularly exciting for kindergartners Alexander and Andrew because their teacher Matt Norvell recently won a $10,000 eco-classroom makeover. He won the grand prize by entering Honeywell and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s fourth annual Got 2B Safe! Awards Program, which recognizes teachers committed to keeping children safer from abduction and sexual exploitation.

Norvell created a five-day curriculum on the Got2b Safety rules: Check first; It’s my body; Go with a friend; and Tell a trusted adult. His weeklong program incorporates a different safety activity on each day, he said. Activities include puppet shows that introduce the Got 2B Safe! Four Rules of Safety, inviting fifth grade students and police officers to come in and perform skits and chants to reinforce the rules, and conducting a Got 2B Safe! assembly during report card pickup night.

This morning during the classroom’s revealing, Honeywell spokesman Mark Kane presented Norvell with a golden apple “Got 2B Safe” award in front of his new students and school officials including Superintendent Tim McGonegal.

“This is one further step in further empowering students ... to teach them life saving lessons,” Kane said.

Manatee County Commissioner Donna Hayes also was in attendance to congratulate Norvell and present him with a proclamation.

As a result of his win and as a way to address the increasing importance of energy-efficiency, part of the classroom makeover included replacing the room’s light bulbs with energy-efficient lighting.

The walls are painted green as part of a jungle theme. Leftover prize money bought classroom items, including a smartboard, digital cameras and books.

“This is just fantastic,” McGonegal said as he looked around the room.

As of about 9:15 a.m., McGonegal said he’d gotten good reports from schools across the county for the start to the school year. No major problems were reported.

Tiffany Tompkins-Condie contributed to this report.

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