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‘This feels really good’ — Community celebrates together again during Back to School Night

School is back in session and with it came the return of an annual tradition in Flossmoor: Back to School Night.

Flossmoor School District 161 students and teachers returned to their classrooms on Thursday, Aug. 12, and the following evening the schools teamed up with the Village of Flossmoor for the return of an annual bash at Flossmoor Park.

“This is such a great event to have people out and have a little camaraderie to start the school year,” Superintendent Dana Smith said. “It’s a nice event.”

The evening featured activities and giveaways, followed by an outdoor screening of “Raya and the Last Dragon” at dark. Homewood-Flossmoor High School offered snacks and other giveaways. District 161 held a raffle. The Flossmoor Fire Department displayed an antique truck. The Flossmoor Public Library handed out school-related trinkets. And sweets were in no short supply, as Flossmoor police provided freeze pops and District 161 ordered a whopping 850 Italian ice treats from Zarlengo’s.

“I think we’ll go through them,” Smith said. “People love it. It’s a nice treat.”

Tashi Lhabrang and her son Kalden, a preK student going into his second year, enjoyed a strawberry Italian ice early. But Kalden was most excited for what was to come at nightfall.

“Movie! Movie! Movie!” he chanted when asked about the highlight of Back to School Night.

Among those who laid claim to a spot early for the movie screening were third-grader Zora, first-grader Noah and mother Candace Winters. They and others came with blankets, chairs and snacks to watch the animated Disney movie on an inflatable screen. But Candace said it was the community aspect that brought them out to the event.

“We’re just getting out of the house to have some fun with all their friends,” she said.

For father Derrick and Malachi Sharp, the latter a first-grader at Flossmoor Hills Elementary School, it was exciting to be celebrating with the community again.

“I remember every year we would have a big celebration in Homewood,” Derrick said. “It would be so great. Last year we didn’t have it, so this is really good to see it happening again.”

Smith said school was off to a “good start” after getting some transportation issues worked out.

“As the processes get started, we can see that we can do this safely,” he said. “We’re able to maintain a good environment. We’ve got the kids in-person; we’ve got all the supports in place. I think we’re going to have a good year.

“This is the reason we get into this profession, not to sit in an office. It’s to work with families and to work with kids. Just having them back in the building has changed the whole complexion of the district. The excitement’s been huge. The attitudes have been positive. We’ve had a really nice start.”

Scott Wakeley, superintendent-elect for Homewood-Flossmoor High School District 233, echoed Smith’s sentiments about school being off to a good start. He took part in Back to School Night to connect with the community, offering snacks and other giveaways from the high school.

“It’s tremendous just to see all the kids,” Wakeley said. “We’ve been cooped up in our homes for the past year and a half. To see smiling faces is really important.

“After finishing our first week of school, in-person learning, everything went great and we’re just blessed to be here.”

In addition to the freeze pops, Flossmoor police handed out D.A.R.E. bags and safety tips.

“It’s a pleasure to be here,” Cmdr. Keith Taylor said. “It’s part of our community relations efforts to be out here and do as much as we can for the public.”

He was joined by Officer Lisa Morris, who two days prior visited Western Avenue, Flossmoor Hills and Heather Hill schools to leave students messages during Chalk the Walk. It is a tradition with which she first got involved when she taught D.A.R.E. and has continued with the aim of inspiring the children.

“I like to make them feel good on their first day of school,” Morris said.

Mayor Michelle Nelson also took part in Chalk the Walk on Aug. 11. She said there is anxiety that comes with the start of any school year, and the messages are meant to help relieve some of that.

“To see so many students coming back with big smiles on their faces, excited to see their friends, excited to see their teachers and seeing the messages that were left for them, from the community, I hope that they feel more confident and I hope that they feel supported and excited about the opportunities of the new school year,” Nelson said.

Nelson was also out Aug. 13 during Back to School Night, passing out Hidden Gem pins, explaining the half marathon’s race route and also providing information about the Chamber Night slated for Wednesday, Aug. 18. She said it was nice to be back out at a community event such as Back to School Night.

“It’s a return to somewhat of a normalcy,” Nelson said. “I think we’ve been craving seeing each other after so much isolation and uncertainty. That’s not to say that there’s still not a lot of uncertainty, but this feels good. This feels really good.”

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