When the new school year begins Tueday Aug. 20 in Round Lake Unit District 116, students are going to know they have the support of their communities.
That's because many local elected officials and heads of local government bodies will be present on the front lawn of schools to greet students, shake hands and wish them well in the coming year.
The BEST nonprofit community networking organization has joined Round Lake-area schools to create a back-to-school program to make students feel more welcome.
"We're trying to show this is what Round Lake School District is like and this is what the community is like," BEST President Kathy Myers said. "We really want to support our kids."
Normally, District 116 schools would start the first day of classes with little fanfare, Myers said, but BEST and the school district wanted to try something more effectual this year.
She said she's seen plenty of research to support the link between community involvement in children's education and higher achievement.
"We need to make sure our grades are up and our kids are doing the best they can," she said.
That's why BEST held a meeting July 23 to connect the principals of each school with Round Lake-area officials from local village governments, the park and library districts, and the fire department.
As a result, each school will have its own distinct greeting for the students when they arrive Aug. 20.
Round Lake Middle School Principal Jeffry Prickett said students at his school and the neighboring Indian Hill Elementary School -- around 1,500 or so -- will participate in "Achieve-a-Palooza" on their first day back.
Students from each school will spell out "#ACHIEVE" on the football field while the middle school's cheerleaders cheer them on.
The night before, the Round Lake Area Park District will chalk lines for the students to stand on. Greater Round Lake Fire Protection District will provide aerial photos of the event from an on-scene fire truck.
"A lot of them (the students) are already pumped up, but this is really going to bring a different level of excitement," Prickett said. "It's hip, it's cool.
"We just want to let them know we're excited to have them back."
Things will be markedly calmer at the Early Education Center in Round Lake, where community members will simply help the students off the bus and wish them well at their first day of class. Myers said they were trying to get the young children into class "with as few tears as possible."
Elsewhere, Myers said, the school district invited local mayors and village board members to stand outside and greet the students as they arrive at school.
Those interested in helping out with the program can email Myers at KMyers@rlas-116.org.