By Josette Keelor
FRONT ROYAL -- Monday's first day of school might have started with fog and uncertainty, but moods quickly brightened for Warren County children, parents and teachers.
"I'm not nervous," 5-year-old Isabella Patricio said. Stopping before walking toward the front doors of Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, Isabella said she knew a couple of her friends were waiting to see her in her kindergarten class.
Annabelle Houde, 7, and her brother Edison, 10, were also looking forward to what the day might bring -- specifically free reading time for Edison and friends of Annabelle's.
Third grader Max Farrucci already knew the ropes at Ressie Jeffries, where he has been a student since preschool. His mom Jacqueline praised Principal Thomas Matteson for promoting school spirit during Max's time there.
She said Matteson knows each of the school's approximately 650 students by name, adding, "He's just such a neat guy."
"This is a great school," she said.
Parents and older students returning to school might expect business as usual, but a new academic year always brings changes.
According to Matteson, the coming year has inspired "a lot of excitement" and "a lot of things that we're hoping to achieve this year."
Now in his third year at Ressie Jeffries, he said he plans to keep "plugging on, and trying to help our kids learn in new and creative ways."
"We also just want to teach them good life skills as well," he said.
On Monday, he welcomed new Assistant Principal Nina Helmick, a former reading coach who said her goals for the year are helping foster "More school morale, school spirit and student achievement. Parent involvement, all those things."
"We want to see parents get more involved," she said.
Ressie Jeffries, on East Criser Road in Front Royal, has five new teachers this year -- four fifth grade teachers and a special education teacher.
Rheannon Sorrels, a special education teacher for the last four years, has been with the school for 11 years and hopes to provide her second and third grade students more inclusion learning opportunities for the 2014-15 school year.
"Last year my students were more self-contained," she said.
Helping her will be student teacher Sally Meredith, a special education student at Old Dominion University.
The teaming offers a first for both of them -- Sorrels' first student teacher, and Meredith's first classroom experience.
Meredith, who plans to teach at the elementary level for seven weeks and high school level for another seven, said she will graduate in December.
"I'm just looking forward to being in the classroom and putting all that I've learned to good use," she said.
Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or email@example.com