“I’m trying not to cry,” Leanne Weston said as she dropped off her 5-year-old son, Grafton, for his first day of kindergarten at Walton Elementary School in Auburn on Wednesday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

School got underway Wednesday with many hugs and much happiness under clear, sunny skies.

The principal of Auburn’s Walton Elementary School, Mike Davis, said “it felt like Christmas again this morning waking up” to the start of a new academic year.

Walton Elementary School Principal Mike Davis talks with Jordan Hulyn, 7, on Hulyn’s first day of second grade in Auburn on Wednesday. Hulyn’s mother, Pamela Hulyn, is at right. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“It’s always exciting to see our students returning,” he said, and to begin getting to know new families whose children are attending for the first time.

Steve Belleau, a gifted and talented teacher at Robert V. Connors Elementary School, dressed up with a dragon-shaped cap and some dragon wings.

“This is great,” Belleau said. “It’s about greeting the kids and welcoming them to their new school.”

As students walked toward the front door from the bus, he flapped his arms and insisted they all do the “dragon flop.” Many did.


Auburn Superintendent Katy Grondin, checking out Park Avenue Elementary School, said she’s been working hard to bolster teamwork among the district’s “amazing educators,” set goals and build on what she sees as a solid, exciting school system.

At the Park Avenue school, two new classrooms are under construction, slated for completion by the end of October, that will help ensure there’s enough space for the building’s bulging student population. For the time being, the art and music teachers will be on the move with carts until the new rooms are done.

Standing outside Connors, Lewiston Superintendent Todd Finn said it is “really exciting to see these kids walking up to their new school. I feel like a little kid going back to school.”

The principal of Robert V. Connors Elementary School, Sara Sims, and Superintendent Todd Finn greet students arriving for the first day of school Wednesday. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

When the first bus appeared in the distance, Finn rushed to get a picture of its arrival.

“This is history,” he insisted as he snapped a shot on his cellphone.

Both Finn and the school’s principal, Sara Sims, greeted most students as they stepped off the buses with hand slips and grins.


As they moved toward the door, many stopped for happy hugs with former teachers. Only a few students had a sullen, oh-no-summer’s-over look as they walked by.

Steve Laprise, whose son Zavion was heading for first grade at Connors, said that after “a long, hot summer” it’s good to have school open again.

He said Zavion, whose mother is a teacher, seemed to be taken aback by the size of the new school, but he’ll roll with it well.

Principal Sims said that after much practice, “we are officially together in every sense” and ready to make it a great year for teachers, students and the entire community.

Gifted and talented teacher Steve Belleau donned a dragon head and wings to welcome students Wednesday to the new Robert V. Connors Elementary School in Lewiston. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

Belleau said the school is “going to be a great learning center” and offers the district space to have gifted students gather there from across the city instead of having him going from school to school. Instead, he said, students will be bused in to Connors for the program he helps to teach.

As the last bus pulled up, Sims told teachers gathered around that she liked it that “you guys are all so jazzed.”


Several said it’s going to take a lot of energy to fill so large a school.

Belleau said that all of them are “coming into a new place and they can make it their own.”

When the last children had crossed into the front foyer, he looked around at the teachers and administrators still standing outside.

“Everybody meet me at Gritty’s in five minutes,” Belleau joked.

Then they went inside to get to work.

A crossing guard on Turner Street, Mark Calos, said he’s happy that students are again trudging to nearby Washburn Elementary School.


“It’s the start of a fresh year,” he said, and he’s glad to be around the youngsters.

Calos, who’s been on the job for three years, said the first few days of school require laying out the rules for students walking across at the corner of Dennison Street. Basically, students need to listen to the two guards, avoid horseplay and stay off the snowbanks in winter.

Saint Dominic Academy President Timothy Gallic cheers on students as sixth-graders pull a school bus up the school’s athletic field access road during a team-building event at the school in Auburn on the first day of classes Wednesday. The pull is a tradition for the sixth-graders, who are new to the Auburn campus. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

The key to delivering children safely across the busy road, Calos said, is that “we just look and make sure there’s an opening” before stepping out to stop traffic. Then they let students know when they can proceed.

Police were out in force across the community to remind drivers to pay attention and be careful of the children walking everywhere.

In Auburn, Police Chief Jason Moen was out on a traffic patrol related to school enforcement Wednesday morning and decided, spur of the moment, to make a Facebook video for the department’s page to get the message out.

In a distorted, cartoon-like video, with his voice turned into a squeak, Moen declared into the camera, “Good morning, Auburn.”


Then he took a deep sniff.

Jasmine Burney, 11, waits at the bus stop on the first day of classes at Walton Elementary School in Auburn on Wednesday. Burney is a sixth-grader. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“Smell that? It’s the smell of freedom. Parents’ freedom. It’s the first day of school. No more ‘Dad, I’m bored.’ No more ‘Mom, there’s nothing to eat in the fridge.’ It’s back to school,” Moen said, before proceeding to caution the community to drive safely.

Shown the video in the middle of the day, Grondin laughed.

“I love it,” she said. “That is awesome, bringing humor to serious issues.”

Moen called it “just a little fun on the first day of school.” By midday, more than 12,000 people had viewed it, he said.

Walton Elementary’s Davis said some children had “natural jitters,” especially those who hadn’t met their teachers, but most were thrilled to be there.


“Everyone seems to be settling in nicely,” Davis said.

The first few days, he said, are devoted mostly to getting to know everybody and to developing a common understanding of the rules throughout the building. Teachers took students around to see where things are, he said, and to help them become familiar with the school’s routines.

Setting expectations is one of the important things to do early on, Davis said.

“We’re off to a really good start,” he said.

Misty Favreau, an eighth-grade teacher at Lewiston Middle School, said the first day requires going over a lot of stuff.

The goal, she said, is “making sure every kid is comfortable and secure.”


Favreau said that with eighth-graders, it’s generally fun because “you can communicate with them and joke around” and even debate issues gently.

Kayla Loudermilk takes a picture of her children, Nathan, 8, Sophia, 5, and Olivia, 9, while waiting for the school bus to arrive at their Auburn home on Wednesday, the first day of school. The children are students at Sherwood Heights Elementary School. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Her students are glad to be back. They’re also sweet and loving, Favreau said, “even though they hide it well.”

At Saint Dominic Academy in Auburn, the incoming freshmen weren’t the only ones making their way through their first day at a new school.

Over the summer, St. Dom’s saw turnover in many of its administrative positions, including superintendent, president, and the principals of both campuses.

There were no first-day jitters for retiree Roger LaChappelle, the interim principal for St. Dom’s Auburn campus, which houses students in grades seven to 12.

For LaChappelle, who was hired to replace Don Fournier, serving in an administrative position like principal is old hat: He served as assistant principal of Lewiston High School for 15 years, and ended his career with a three-year stint as principal at Gardiner Area High School.


LaChappelle said Wednesday that he had to shake a little rust off and regain the stamina he had lost in retirement.

“During the summer, I’d work three or four hours and would start feeling tired,” LaChappelle said. “Now that the kids are back in school, I find it a little easier. Their energy is helping me.”

Joining LaChappelle heading into the 2019-20 school year is Superintendent Marianne Pelletier, Lewiston campus Principal Alanna Stevenson, and Timothy Gallic, who was hired as president of St. Dom’s Lewiston and Auburn campuses.

Gallic, who moved to Maine from Katy, Texas, said that much like one of the 32 incoming freshmen at the Auburn campus, his goal over the next few months is to “meet folks and develop friendships.”

“My hope is to get to know and understand the culture of the town,” Gallic said before nodding his head toward LaChappelle. “Take Roger here. We just met three weeks ago, but it’s been fantastic so far. It’s like meeting an old friend again.”

LaChappelle plans to serve as interim principal until January, and over the next few months, he said he wants to help a “great school become a better school.”


“There’s a lot to love about the school right now,” LaChappelle said. “If you look at the academics alone, over the last two years, our graduating seniors have had 100 percent acceptance rates to colleges. It was always in the 90s before that. I want to help keep things going the way they have been.”

One of the changes LaChappelle made coming into the new year was eliminating homeroom from the start of the school day.

“Before, we’d have homeroom and a prayer before the start of the first class, but apparently, there was a tardiness issue,” LaChappelle said. “Students wouldn’t show up to homeroom or prayer because it wasn’t part of class. So we got rid of homeroom, and instead, we’re holding prayer between first and second period.”

The changes went over “pretty well” with the students, he said.

“There was a really positive energy going on,” LaChappelle said. “It feels like it’s going to be a great year.”


Saint Dominic Academy sixth-graders pull a school bus up the school’s athletic field access road during a team-building exercise at the school in Auburn on the first day of classes Wednesday. The pull is an annual tradition for the sixth grade  class. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Saint Dominic Academy sixth-graders pull a school bus up the school’s athletic field access road during a team-building exercise at the school in Auburn on the first day of classes Wednesday. The pull is an annual tradition for the sixth grade. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

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