Even with interior renovations wrapping up at Cortland Elementary School, the first day of school went off without a hitch.

Students made their way off buses or were dropped off by their parents and entered the building eager and ready to get the new school year underway.

Some were excited about meeting new friends and learning new things, while others just couldn’t wait for recess and lunch.

Seymour Community School Corp. welcomed more than 4,500 students back to classrooms Wednesday.

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Cortland Principal Lori Lister, now in her second year at the school, said the morning went even better than she had hoped, with no problems.

“The kids were excited and ready to go,” she said. “It’s great to see their faces when they get off the bus. They’re ready to be back.”

For some kids, especially kindergartners, the first day of school can be a little scary. But Lister said that didn’t seem to be the case this year.

“I didn’t see any tears from students,” she said. “Now parents, I don’t know.”

Lister said by holding kindergarten orientation and a back-to-school open house beforehand, students feel more acquainted with the school and staff on the first day.

“They get to see their classroom, walk through the building and meet their teacher,” she said. “So there’s not as many unknowns. They know what’s coming and who they are going to see when they walk through the door.”

With around 150 students, Cortland is the smallest school in the corporation and is located in the most rural area, five miles northwest of Seymour. The building is surrounded by cornfields and farms.

“Our numbers are very good,” Lister said of enrollment. “We are about what we were last year, maybe a few more. Our kindergarten has grown over the past couple of days by two or three students.”

A $2 million construction project at the school is nearly complete with just a few small items and finishing touches remaining.

Students and faculty now have use of a brand-new, 6,509-square-foot media center that gives the school a more modern look and feel.

The large room provides more capacity for books and materials and space for students to sit and read or study. Other features include small group instructional rooms for individualized learning and tutoring, conference rooms for staff meetings and training and a special reading room with stair-step seating for story time or guest speakers.

Along with the new media center, there also are new restrooms and water fountains, which Lister said were greatly needed, and new bright-colored paint and tile flooring in the lobby and hallways.

The old open-concept library has been transformed into small group instructional rooms and a hallway connecting the two wings of the building.

“Our first-graders probably have the biggest adjustment this year because our first-grade class was in the front of the building, and now, it’s moved to the back,” Lister said.

All of the renovations make it look like a new school, she added.

For some students, however, it really is a new school.

Kindergartners in Suzi Fallis’ classroom spent the morning getting used to their environment, which included areas for story time, a play kitchen, their own desks and restrooms, cubbyholes for their backpacks and computers.

The room is decorated in lots of frogs, but not real ones.

“I have to be clear about that on the first day, that I like animated frogs,” Fallis said of her classroom decor. “And that’s a mistake I’ve made. I’ve had a present of a real frog brought in by a student in their pocket.”

Besides being cute, Fallis said the frogs mean something, too.

“Frogs hop to it, and that’s what we do in kindergarten,” she said. “We’re ready to hop to it today.”

Owen Newkirk, 6, said he was excited about being in kindergarten.

“It’s where you play and learn,” he said.

Fallis said Owen was exactly right, and that in many instances, the class would learn through play.

Her favorite part of the first day of school is the excitement and newness for her students.

The first week is spent learning about school behavior and all of the rules and procedures for what is expected of them — what to do when they first get in the classroom in the morning, the proper way to use the restroom, how to line up, how to sit with their legs crossed and hands in their laps, how to listen and raise their hand to ask a question, how to use their “inside” voice and how to be good friends to their classmates.

It’s a lot to take in, but there is so much promise of growth, she said.

“By two weeks, to see them walk in this room and follow the procedures, follow expectations and become independent and it happens so fast,” she said. “To see the amount of growth they experience, it gives me chills to talk about it.”

At the end of the school year, students will be reading, counting and recognizing numbers to 100, writing, doing basic addition and subtraction, understanding how communities work and know about plants and animals.

“There is so much content in kindergarten anymore, but they are ready for it,” she said.

Jaxon Marcott, 5, said he felt like he was pretty smart already because he could spell his name.

“But I really want to learn how to read,” he said.

Five-year-old Taylor Carter said the best part about going to school is being with other kids her age.

“I’ve already made a ton of friends today,” she said.

Both Jaxon and Taylor said the first day of school is both fun and exciting, but the best part is recess.

“We get to play on the playground with all the other kids,” Jaxon said.

It’s not just the students and teachers who are excited by the first day of school. Principals feel the same way, Lister said.

“We come back two weeks before and it’s quiet, and the teachers came back Monday, but today is the day we all wait for,” she said. “The day the students come back, it feels like a school again.”

January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.