LEROY — Although Pine River students began classes on Sept. 8, district staff were on hand days before to welcome them back during open houses at the middle/high school and elementary school.

"We're celebrating 50 years of excellence," said PRAS Superintendent Matt Lukshaitis during the high school open house. "The teachers are fired up and I think the kids are as well, judging by the activity in the hallways."

The event provided the opportunity for students to become familiar with their teachers, receive locker combinations and learn which rooms they will frequent during the school year. For the younger children, it allowed them to feel safe and comfortable in what could be an intimidating school building.

Both buildings were bustling with activity and excitement was in the air as teens and children reunited with friends, found — and struggled with — their new lockers and posed for a school photograph.

"I think the open house eases students' mind and fears they may have had before they enter the building," said kindergarten teacher Angela Johnson, who will have 22 children in her room this year. "It also gives the kids a face to fit the name of the teacher they've been hearing about."

At the elementary school, parents were able to browse through a selection of free books and coats provided by local organizations in the gymnasium. In the halls, students could be seen giving hugs to teachers and exploring their new classrooms.

"I think the open house has gone well," said Pine River Area Elementary School Principal Jaime Heuker. "I think it settled some nerves and allowed kids to get to know each other before class starts. It's always exciting to see them on the first day of school and watch the relationships build, make the kids feel safe and give them a sense of community."