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Welcoming committee makes first day of school special for New London students

The tradition, now seven years old, welcomes students back for a new academic year. This year was even more meaningful due to the pandemic.

NEW LONDON, Conn. — Around 3,300 students returned to New London Public Schools for the first time in a while Tuesday morning but they aren't doing it alone. 

Throughout the whole week, a team of volunteers is greeting the students as they head back to school. It's a tradition that's been happening for several years.

FOX61 was there as the welcoming committee greeted the kids at C.B. Jennings International Elementary Magnet School.

"It’s special. Kids come on their first day and you’re not quite sure who’s more nervous, the child or the parent," said Chief Brian Wright with the New London Police Department. "So we try to ease those emotions and let them know, hey we’re here for them." 

The tradition is slightly different this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Parents aren't allowed to go inside the school buildings, so they held the event outside. 

Once the kids said goodbye, they joined their classmates and teachers in a line. That line then was greeted by members of law enforcement, firefighters, city leaders, and community members, who were all cheering them on.

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Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie said this tradition is especially important this year since it's the first time more than 40% of students are heading back to school after being remote last year.

"This will be the first time our hallways and our classrooms are truly populated to their capacity while still keeping safety and mitigation strategies in place," Ritchie said. 

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There are several differences students and staff will need to get used to this year compared to 2020. 

Start times are different and they're asking parents to drop their children off before the buses roll in. Students and staff will need to wear a mask at all times as well. 

The district is also dealing with the same bus driver shortage many are seeing on a national level. Over the weekend, the district sent a note to parents saying they will have to consolidate certain routes, for now. They're hoping First Student Inc., their transportation service, will be able to find new hires soon.

The district is also on track to be the first all-magnet district in the state, a journey that started a decade ago.

Students can choose a pathway of either International Education, STEM, or Visual and Performing Arts. This will be the first time they have a class graduation on the arts pathway. It's also the first year they’re welcoming kindergartners into the International Education pathway.

Ritchie is confident the school community learned a lot throughout the pandemic. 

"I feel our relationships are stronger. And that all aligns with our district vision to unite, unite in excellence. It’s no longer just a teacher and a student, it’s really a team approach to support the success of every child," Ritchie said. 

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