Crouching at a table Monday, Becky Allen kissed her son Adam goodbye on his first day of school at Freedom Park Elementary School.
"Have a good day," Mrs. Allen said with a smile.
The kindergartner and his brother Zack, a first-grader, were among hundreds of pupils and parents who packed into the new Fort Gordon school.
Teachers and school officials throughout Richmond County greeted more than 35,000 pupils as they began the 2002-03 school year.
For school and post officials, Monday marked the end of a long journey.
"We have waited for this day for a long time," said Pat Bucholtz, Fort Gordon's strategic management officer.
The school, built with sales tax revenue generated from a March 1997 special purpose local option sales tax, is an addition to Phase I of the system's $300 million School Improvement Program.
In a sea of camouflage, members of the school's staff could easily be spotted in their bright-red golf shirts. Sharon McLeod and other parents waited in the cafeteria with their children until the first bell rang. Mrs. McLeod's daughter Jada is a fifth-grader at the new school.
For the McLeod family - who recently moved to Augusta from Fort Benning, Ga. - Freedom Park is a new type of experience.
"I think (the school system) is really going to set a precedent with this school," Mrs. McLeod said.
The school, built to accommodate up to 650 pupils, is inching toward capacity. School officials had estimated 500 pupils for the 2002-03 school year, but late Saturday two teachers were added to accommodate the higher-than-expected enrollment, Principal Rita Bradley said.
All in all, Mrs. Bradley said, the day went well. And when the dismissal bell rang, Zack and Adam emerged from their classrooms with smiling faces.
Zack, eagerly looking for his mother, was greeted by his father, Capt. Ethan Allen.
"We made a rainbow fish, did some work and read a book," the first-grader said. "It was fun."
Reach Ashlee Griggs at (706) 823-3552 or firstname.lastname@example.org.