Students and parents share their excitement and nervousness as Jericho schools kick off their annual rite of being the first on Long Island to go back to school. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports.  Credit: Newsday staff

The theme this year at Cantiague Elementary in the Jericho school district is "Together We Can," and that sentiment was on display Wednesday morning as children arrived for the first day of school.

Parents, teachers, staff and even the Jayhawk mascot waited under a balloon arch to welcome the roughly 400 children enrolled at the K-5 school. Jericho is the first Long Island district to open for 2023-24.

"It's great to have the kids back in the building. We missed them so much over the summer," music teacher Pete O'Malley said.

Most of Long Island's 124 public systems start after Labor Day, with the largest group, 59, starting on Tuesday. Only a handful of districts begin classes this week, including in East Williston, where students return Thursday.

Districts are required to offer at least 180 days of instruction, but several will offer more. The Jericho district, which enrolls about 3,200 students, provides 186 days of instruction.

There are several holidays affecting the school calendar this year. Most systems schedule time for the Jewish holidays. Some districts have added days off to recognize the Islamic holiday Eid al-Fitr in April and India’s Diwali festival in October.

Jericho Superintendent Henry L. Grishman said the district celebrates many of the cultural and religious holidays.

On Wednesday, parent Andre Valadas stopped outside Cantiague Elementary's  entrance to take a photograph of his 5-year-old daughter, Olivia, who was about to start kindergarten. The family recently moved to Jericho — attracted by its schools. The district often appears in national rankings, and the high school was named earlier this week as one of the nation's best by U.S. News & World Report. 

"It is going to be a great day today," Valadas said. His daughter was looking forward to school. "She could barely sleep because she was so excited to go to kindergarten."

Children stepped off the buses and hugged the yellow-and-blue Jayhawk mascot. Parents stopped to take photos of their child's first day. Teachers stood outside to welcome their new students. And Principal Joseph Sapienza was there greeting the kids from before the buses rolled in until the last child was inside the door. 

The first school day "really kicks off the year in a tone that continues until the end of June, and that tone is really just one of family and community," Sapienza said.

Latest videos

Newsday LogoCovering LI news as it happensDigital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months