FORT RILEY, Kan. - School buses, filled backpacks, new outfits, smiling teachers, excited students and anxious parents. These were the sights at Fort Riley Elementary School Aug. 17 as the summer came to an end and students returned to school.

"It's like the reward is the first day of school because we do so many things behind the scenes - you know, enrolling students, making class lists, preparing classrooms - that seeing a child in every classroom with a qualified teacher, an exceptional teacher, is my biggest reward," said Becky Lay, principal at Fort Riley Elementary.

As parents dropped off their children, staff directed students to their new classrooms. Lay said that in her 15 years as principal at the school, this year was the largest turnout for parents in the morning, which may have been due to the 11 a.m. start to the duty day for Soldiers.

One parent, Capt. Lori Rilat, a social worker assigned to the Medical Department Activity at Irwin Army Community Hospital, escorted four of her six children to their new classrooms at Fort Riley Elementary.

"I'm a social worker here on post, so I think it's really important to try to get involved in your kids' schools, and I'm just fortunate that my duty section allows me to bring the kids to school the first day," said Rilat, who has a child in first, third, fourth and fifth grades at Fort Riley Elementary.

Maj. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley, met up with USD 475 superintendent Dr. Ronald Walker for the first day of school at Fort Riley Elementary. Brooks then visited several fifth-grade classes, like that of Rilat's child, to welcome students back to school.

"I'm a lot like you. My father was in the Army," he told one fifth-grade class, adding he went to four different elementary schools. "One of them was in Kansas, just like you."

Brooks read a book, "I am America" by Charles Smith Jr., to one fifth-grade class.

"Everybody in this classroom is a little bit different. Every person in here is special," Brooks said, echoing the sentiment of the book. "We come from different backgrounds; we have different names; we have different looks; sometimes we have different interests. But we're all in the same class together, as friends, learning together."

Brooks, who visited several Fort Riley schools Monday morning, said he was happy parents of school-aged children were able to "slow down" that morning and take their children to school as a Family.

"I wanted to come out and feel some of that energy and excitement and let people know how much we care about the school programs here as part of our commitment to Families," he said.

Classes began shortly after 8 a.m. and would continue until 11:40 a.m., Lay said. The remaining days of the first week were full days.

"Teachers have planned a lot of making connections activities with the kids, kids making connections with each other, so they start feeling comfortable with the school," Lay said. "We know how important it is for kids to have that connection and to feel that we are all part of a Family. So that's a big thing, getting to know the routine, and feeling connected with the school."