Students arriving at New Britain High School on Monday morning got a memorable greeting for the first day of classes: A line of administrators and community leaders giving them high-fives.
Instead of the quiet welcome and occasional handshake that are common at most back-to-school mornings, New Britain High's staff went a bit bolder.
Buses pulled up to the sidewalk to shouts of "good morning!" and "welcome back!"
A few teachers stood by to give directions to lost freshmen and transfer students, but most of the attention was focused on the energetic welcome.
"Don't act like you didn't miss me!" Dean of Students Michael Peterson yelled as he ran from bus to bus, trying to greet as many of the 3,000 students as possible.
Peterson skipped his usual suit in favor of a T-shirt, New Britain High School training jacket, sneakers and a backward baseball cap.
"It's something that makes them feel more welcome — it's a sense of comfort," Peterson explained later. "For the first day, I stay out of the tie, I dress down."
Principal Joseph Pinchera and his staff started the high-five greeting for the first day of classes last fall. It was such a success that Peterson and a few others went out every morning — regardless of rain or cold — for the rest of the year.
"We got attendance up around 95, 96 percent. You want that engagement, it's important," Peterson said.
The high school has about 30 percent of the roughly 10,000 students who went back to class across the city Monday.
Alderman Danny Salerno, Superintendent Nancy Sarra, school operations director Paul Salina and Paulette Fox, headed of the city's Opportunities Industrialization Center, joined Pinchera's staff in greeting students Monday morning. Periodically, timid freshmen or distracted upperclassmen with earbuds walked past with blank looks, but most students responded with their own greetings.
"There's an excitement on the first day. The students like being back with their friends and back in a routine," said Salina, who has been an educator since 1970.
"This is when teachers set the expectation levels. Teachers have to let students see their enthusiasm, and let them know they're interested in their welfare and success," Salina said. "And for students, this is their future — they need to take it seriously."
Junior Maya Mlynarska said she is happy to be starting a new year. The daughter of Polish immigrants, she took Saturday morning Polish culture and language classes at the high school for years.
"This is like a second home to me. I'm very comfortable here," Mlynarska said. "I was born in New Britain, and I looked forward to high school. I always wanted to get to play sports here."
Senior Carlos Mendez was preparing for a busy year. Last year, he took advanced classes to prepare for a career in medicine, and is interested in the radiology field.
"School, (soccer) practice, work and homework," he said just before starting his first class of the year. "And this year, I want to have fun, too. A lot of these people won't be with me later on. It's my last year to be here."