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Chariho students enjoy a new year and old routines

ASHAWAY — Some were delighted over their new backpacks; others over their new school clothes.

Still others pointed and shrieked when they saw new basketball hoops.

But at Ashaway Elementary School, many youngsters also eagerly welcomed something that has stayed the same: The first day of school Tuesday started like every day will begin this year, with nearly 200 children sitting together in the gymnasium for a two-minute morning meeting.

“We’re a team, and we’re better together,” said Principal Steven Morrone. “It’s quick, but it’s a welcome for the students and a time when the whole school can be together, even on the first day.”

The morning meeting tradition, which Morrone kicks off with his whistle, began five years ago when he took over as principal. All students and teachers meet in the gym for encouragement and maybe a few announcements.

“We’re a small community and this is a tight-knit school,” Morrone said. “We’re a big family.”

Tuesday was the first day of class for the entire Chariho Regional School District, bringing out a myriad of emotions.

“I’m very sad,” Rhys Urbec, said a 9-year-old fourth-grader at Ashaway. “I did not want to go to school.”

Rhys’ mom, Wendy Pugh, also struggled. “It’s hard, I’m going to start crying,” said Pugh, who said it was particularly hard to send her youngest son, 5-year-old Ramsey Urbec, to kindergarten at Ashaway. “They’re moving on, stepping up in the world. It’s a great school for them to go to, it’s just hard to let go.”

Kerri Smith, a kindergarten teacher, enjoyed the first day of school.

“I love it. … the best part is when students you had last year or the last few years come running up to you,” Smith said. “Students pop in all day long just to say ‘Hi.’ And teaching kindergarten… this is the foundation. It all starts here.”

At Wood River Junction, Chariho Middle School Principal Gregory Zenion, in his ninth year, greeted students — some well before the 7:30 a.m. start time.

“Some students were here pretty early,” Zenion said. “Most years, after the summer, the students are happy and ready to be back. They like being in the building.”

And many of the more than 1,000 students at the middle school were introduced to new electives this year in music, art and technology.

“We based the new electives on student interest,” Zenion said.

Superintendent Barry Ricci had an early start Tuesday, too — his ritual for the first day of school.

Ricci boarded Bus 13 in front of Chariho High School at 6 a.m.

“The bus ride on the first day of school has become somewhat of a tradition for me,” Ricci said. “I do it to remind myself that we impact many facets of a child’s day. The ride to and from school are like bookends, and I want the experience to be positive and encouraging.”

Decked out in a new dress, new shoes and new backpack stuffed with supplies and her summer math homework, Ashaway third-grader Tessa Azzinaro was confident Tuesday, especially since she was minutes away from her daily rally.

“The morning meetings are good,” Tessa, 8, said, “so you can get ready and meet everybody and say, ‘Hi.’”

Added Smith: “It’s great to start off together. It’s this way on Day 1 and it’ll be this way on Day 180.”

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