Though friends Rachel Hennigan and Alexis Deas won't be attending the same school next week, they were among hundreds of pupils at the 10th annual Columbia County Back to School Festival on Saturday who were eagerly awaiting the return of classes.
The two girls, who both attended Martinez Elementary last school year, look forward to middle school.
"You can sit where you want in lunch," said Alexis, who will start sixth grade at Lakeside Middle on Monday.
Rachel, a rising sixth-grader at Evans Middle, was more excited about being assigned her own locker.
Both girls said they will keep in touch throughout the year.
"Summer has gone real fast," Alexis said. "It was like yesterday I was holding a diploma (from finishing elementary school)."
Two hours into the event, Columbia County school system's Community Relations Coordinator Karen Ribble said she estimated about 800 people had walked through Evans Middle, where the festival was held.
"I think it's just a good opportunity to get back in the swing of things for the school year," she said.
About 30 vendors set up booths inside the school, offering information and activities for those in attendance. Information regarding immunizations, three-point screenings, school programs and extracurricular activities were offered to pupils and parents.
At the Columbia County Board of Education booth, guests could take mouse pads, pencils, pamphlets and the updated school calendar, which seemed to be a popular item, Ribble said.
"A lot of the parents like some of the freebies to start off the school year," she said.
Buster, the school system's bus safety robot, was on hand to interact with children.
Hannah Muza, a rising second-grader at South Columbia Elementary, said she enjoyed seeing Buster. Her mother, Anna Muza, said she attends the event every year.
"It just kind of gets them excited about going back to school," Muza said. "It's a good community event for the county."
About 10 miles away in Grovetown, another back-to-school event was under way.
The third annual Back-2-School Explosion, sponsored by Christ Church of Grovetown, took place at Liberty Park Community Center, where more than 250 people picked up school supply packets and participated in a variety of activities.
"Our ministry thought it was very important to have something specific for the Grovetown community," event coordinator Dawn Green said.
After picking up their packets, many guests ate free food, listened to music and played.
Grovetown resident Jacqueline Harris took her two grandchildren, Trabonce Washington, 8, and Aniya Bryant, 4, to the event. Their mother recently was deployed from Fort Gordon to Korea, Harris said.
Though this was her first year attending, Harris said she definitely will return. She was pleased to find many items required for school in the packet.
"It looks like everything on their school supply list," she said.
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