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At LaSalle Preparatory School in Niagara Falls, it's not just 'back to school' it's also 'Happy New Year!'

Students, teachers, and administrators return to class at full capacity with many emotions.

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — A chorus of "good morning's" and even some "Happy New Year's!" from the principal and school administrators greeted the students at LaSalle Preparatory School in Niagara Falls on Tuesday morning. For the first time since March 2020, a full slate of 550 seventh and eighth graders will all be learning inside the building at the same time. 

Administrators say the first goal for the year will be helping students transition smoothly from remote and hybrid learning, before diving into academics. 

"Social emotional learning is our top priority," Assistant Principal Roland Davis told 2 On Your Side. "We want to make sure that when the kids walk in, they're immediately greeted with smiling faces, all of our teachers are going to be visible. We want the kids to know that this is a safe place, that we're ready to get back to learning. At the same time, we're going to have some fun throughout this year." 

One place LaSalle students will notice a major change is in the school cafeteria. New furniture and an extra 20 minutes in every lunch period was added to encourage socializing, check-in's with the school social worker, as well as mentoring and tutoring. 

"Just if they need a few extra minutes to go visit their guidance counselor, visit their social worker, visit a teacher, just to be kind of reassured that they're safe," said Principal Kathy Urban. "They can be safe here, we care about them, and we welcome them back to a new school year." 

Niagara Falls City School District Superintendent Mark Laurrie says the motto for the year is slow and steady wins the race. 

"We need to take it slow," he said. "If we think we're going to come back and cram in a year and a half's worth of pandemic learning loss, it's not going to happen. Let's take it slow, let's get our rituals and routines down, let's take care of each other. We'll get to the heavy learning soon, but we're going to take it slow. We're going to look for signs of kids who may be struggling or stressed and really pay close attention to the needs of children."