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Start of school greeted with mixed emotions

MANATEE — Sporting a pink and black Hannah Montana backpack, Cleiry Umanzur smiled big as she walked into Matt Norvell’s kindergarten class at Oneco Elementary on Monday morning.

“I missed you,” Norvell said as he bent down and hugged the little girl. “But I’m not your teacher anymore. You’re going into first grade now.”

Without blinking, Cleiry’s eyes welled up with tears.

Her reaction made Norvell misty eyed.

“You’re a big girl now,” he said smiling, then slowly escorting her out of his first-floor room at the school off State Road 70.

Emotions ran high Monday morning during the first day of school for about 42,000 students in Manatee County.

Inside that same classroom, a single tear slid down Laurie Aldama’s cheek.

“I’m really excited for him,” Aldama said as she snapped a photo of her 5-year-old son Alexander as he colored a picture at his desk.

Nearby 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.”

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

At Palm View Elementary, where $14.5 million in construction had just been finished, school officials pointed a few lost parents in the direction of their children’s classrooms.

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 serve 1,300 students in grades six through 12.

At Palmetto High School, Johntrice McGee, 15, and her cousin Acie Duncan, 16, walked out of the school holding papers in their hands.

“We’re both in the process of changing schools so we are registering for high school,” McGee said. “We’ll be back tomorrow to start. We’re ready to get on and see bigger and better things!”

Over at 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!”

Later in the day, he walked the halls of a new two-floor wing that consists of rooms including a computer lab, and pre-K and fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms.

Back at Oneco, the day was particularly exciting for kindergartners Alexander and Andrew because 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.

During the classroom’s unveiling, 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.

At the day’s end, McGonegal said there were no major glitches.

Foreign exchange student David Mauboussin, who spent his first day as an American student at Braden River High School, said something similar Monday evening.

“Today at school was a nice day and I understood everything that the teacher said, so I am very proud of myself,” said the 17-year-old student from France. “I am very tired too. It was a good ending.”

— Tiffany Tompkins-Condie contributed to this report.