WILLMAR -- With a unified shout of "Cut that ribbon," 150 kindergarteners followed their teachers into the new wing of Roosevelt Elementary School in Willmar on Monday morning.
Many parents joined them in their first walk to the new classrooms. Many said they were pleased to have their children in the same school building now. The addition is nearly finished, about 10 months after school officials first decided to move ahead with construction. Tile and carpeting will be installed next summer to complete the project. The concrete floor's moisture content was too high in December to finish the installation.
"It's like the first day of school," said Dean of Students Nathan Cox as he watched the first students arrive with their parents at one of Roosevelt's gyms.
Each day, students will arrive and go to the gym to wait for their teachers, Cox said. Then they'll go to their classrooms together through a door that connects directly to the kindergarten wing. Monday morning, the door had a bright red ribbon strung across it.
Shawna Roemeling of Atwater said her daughter Erin was excited but nervous about the move -- excited about not having to ride two buses anymore to get to Lincoln and a little nervous about being around older kids.
Cox said he thought parents would like the fact that the kindergarten is in a separate wing of the building.
"I think it's going to be great," Roemeling said. "The teachers have really been good at making this work for the kids."
Erika Wogan's daughter Shelby has been talking about the move since before the holiday break.
"I went to school here, so to see it change and get added on to is a little weird," Wogan said, but she thinks the move will be good for the kids.
The Roosevelt kindergarteners were the last students to attend school at Lincoln Elementary, which will now be mothballed.
Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said the two remaining elementary schools are larger than he would have liked -- each has about 900 students-- but the transition has gone well overall.
"The teachers have done a really nice job of helping the kids feel comfortable," he said.
The students will be leaving their principal behind, too. Beckie Simenson, now director of alternative programs, was the principal at Lincoln until the last students moved out. While she will miss the kindergarteners, she said, she has enjoyed seeing former students at the Area Learning Center this year.
Roosevelt Principal Patti Dols greeted the children and asked their teachers to slice through the ribbon.
As the hall and classrooms filled with children, Dols said the new wing will be "good for families, good for the community."
Earlier in the school year, the kindergarten classes were each befriended by a classroom of older students, called their "Big Buddies." Those students are excited to have their little buddies in the building, too, she said.
Within a few minutes, lockers slammed shut, parents slipped out, and the hallway was empty.
"And the learning begins," Dols said with a smile.