Columbia County opened the doors to Evans Middle School nearly a week early Saturday to prepare pupils and parents for the fast-approaching return to school.
The annual Back-to-School Festival featured 52 booths with information and programs friendly to children and adults.
"I think it's important just to get the kids excited about the school year, because a lot of kids are scared to go to school for the first time or to return to school," said Amy Johnston, the event coordinator and community relations specialist for the University Health Care System.
"They can see a school bus and meet some people that actually work at the school and just get excited and get ready for school."
In addition to University Hospital, the event was sponsored by the Columbia County Board of Education, Columbia County Community and Leisure Services and The Columbia County News-Times .
The festival brought out large groups of interested parents and children.
"I would say we get close to 800 to 1,000 people every year," Johnston said.
New to this year's festival were four parent workshops on graduation requirements, college education planning, Internet safety and tips for pupils heading into new grade levels.
As Evans resident Tina Germany and her 12-year-old son, Cameron, were leaving the new math curricula workshop taught by two consultants from Carnegie Learning, she said she gained a lot of useful information.
"I'm just trying to get a heads up on what to expect," she said. "Math can be a struggle. The more you can learn, the more you can help them."
As for her son, she said he's looking forward to school starting back up.
"This is the first year he's ready to go back to school," Germany said about Cameron, who will start sixth grade at Evans Middle on Monday. "I'm glad that he's ready because that makes a difference."
Workers from the Columbia County Health Department and East Central Health District were on hand to inform parents about county schools' screening and immunization requirements. They administered hearing, vision and dental screenings.
By noon, Leah Uscanga had given about seven hearing and vision screenings.
"It's fun working with the kids," said Uscanga, the property and supply supervisor at the county's health department. "You have to make a game with it for them to understand."
The health department's three offices in Appling, Grovetown and Evans will offer screenings from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. through Friday, Uscanga said.
A key element of the day's festivities were the demonstrations put on by the school's transportation department in the county.
Buster, a remote-controlled school bus, was on hand, as were four new puppets to teach bus safety.
"What is fun for me is the interaction with the children," said Chad Boggess, a county school bus driver. "Being a bus driver, I like seeing happy kids.
"A lot of times, we're the first ones they see (in the morning) and the last person in the afternoon."
In addition, parents and pupils could tour a county school bus and acquire information on the bus schedules for the upcoming school term.
Though school doesn't start until Monday in the county, it started early for at least one pupil in attendance.
"I have my bags all packed and ready for school," said Katelyn Washington, who started fourth grade in Gibson, Ga., on Monday.
Katelyn attended the festival with her grandmother, who lives in Columbia County.
"They gave us a free bag of school supplies," said Katelyn, holding up her bag.
Other activities included face painting, tae kwon do, dance performances and a "kid zone."
Holding a balloon in her hand, Elizabeth Fulton, a rising kindergarten pupil at Evans Elementary School, couldn't wait to go play.
"My favorite part was getting the face painting, because I liked the beautiful colors I chose," Elizabeth said about the butterfly on her right cheek. "The next thing I'm going to go do is go jump."
Her mother, Audrey Fulton, came to the festival for another reason.
"I thought I'd be able to get some good information about after-school programs and the school system since it is our first time being in the school system," she said.
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