OSCEOLA/MECOSTA COUNTIES — School bells will soon mark the end of summer vacation and the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year as students return to class within the next few weeks. “I am very excited about the school year starting,” said Evart Public Schools Superintendent Shirley Howard. “I’m looking forward to a smooth start this year.” EPS students and staff may notice a few security updates upon returning to the buildings, namely in the high school. New to the high school, visitors will be directed through the office, preventing access to the hallways without checking in first. Also new in Evart is the roof over the elementary building, according to EPS Superintendent Shirley Howard. While students may not see the new roof, they can browse the halls and meet their teachers underneath it during an open house, from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 21. Middle and high school students and their families can visit the buildings after hours for an open house from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 4. The first day of the new academic year is Thursday, Aug. 23, and it is an early release day. Across Osceola and Mecosta counties, students, staff and families may notice a few other updates to their school districts. “The elementary gymnasium floor was stripped to the wood, redone and repainted with a new design, it looks remarkable,” said Morley Stanwood Community Schools Superintendent Roger Cole, noting other visible changes may be the portions of sidewalk that have been fixed, security updates at all three main high school entrances or the 15 new leased buses. “One of the very big projects is something that no one is going to see. We coated and sealed more than half of the building roofs. It’s a new energy-saving material.” Families will have a chance to see some of the updates and more during elementary open house from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., middle/high school open house from 5 to 7 p.m. or at freshman orientation from 6:30 to 7 p.m., all on Monday, Aug. 20. The first day of school will be Tuesday, Aug. 21, and is a full day. “I can’t believe how fast summer goes but we are all excited to have the students back,” Cole said. Crossroads Charter Academy Superintendent and Elementary Principal Christopher White also is ready to start the school year, but before students fill the desks at CCA, there will be Back to School Night in the elementary building, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 21, during which students can meet their teachers. Back to School Night in the middle/high school building will be from 6 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 21. As students meet friends in the hallways or in the classrooms, they may notice a few new things, including a couple of pilot classes in second, fourth and sixth grades. The classes utilize a lot of small group instruction and independent learning, White said. CCA students’ first day of school will be Monday, Aug. 27, and will be a full day. “I’m always excited to start the school year up,” White said. “School is pretty lonely without kids in it.” Locally, other open houses and first days include: • Big Rapids Public Schools — Brookside Elementary School open house is from 4 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 22, and Riverview Elementary School’s open house is during the same times on Thursday, Aug. 23. Fifth-grade Jump Start is from 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 21, and sixth- through eighth-grade open house is from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 22. The high school swing-in is from 1 to 3:30 p.m. and Big Rapids Virtual School open house is from 2 to 4 p.m., both on Wednesday, Aug. 22. The first day of school is Monday, Aug. 27, and is an early dismissal day. • Chippewa Hills School District — Barryton Elementary School and Mecosta Elementary School open houses are from 5 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 22, and the evening comes to a close with freshmen orientation from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. The intermediate school open house is set for 4 to 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 27, along with the high school open house from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The first day of school is Tuesday, Aug. 28, and is a full day. • Reed City Area Public Schools — Back to School Open Houses are set for Wednesday, Aug. 22. G.T. Norman Elementary families can explore the halls and meet the teachers from 4:30 to 6 p.m., and middle-schoolers can do the same from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The first day of school is Monday, Aug. 27, and is a half day. • St. Mary Catholic School, St. Michael Catholic School, St. Peter’s Lutheran School and Trinity Lutheran School students all have their first day of the 2018-19 academic year on Monday, Aug. 27. • There is a mandatory parent meeting for St. Michael Catholic School parents from 6 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 22, and the Back to School Picnic is set for noon to 1 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 26. • St. Peter’s Lutheran School families can learn more about the academic year during open hose from 5:30 to 7:30 on Wednesday, Aug. 22, and will have an early release day on the first day back to class. • Trinity Lutheran students also will have a half day on Monday, Aug. 27.