As the clock struck 7 a.m. Thursday, whimpers of sleepiness spilled from 5-year-old Liah Grullon’s Utica bedroom.

UTICA — As the clock struck 7 a.m. Thursday, whimpers of sleepiness spilled from 5-year-old Liah Grullon’s Utica bedroom.

“You’ve got to get up,” said her mom, Rhyannon Grullon, a dental hygienist in the Utica Business Park who already was dressed in her scrubs. “It’s your first day of school, mama.”

Liah’s tiredness was quickly replaced by excitement, as her bare feet slapped against the hardwood floor in pursuit of the bathroom where her mom brushed Liah’s teeth — the new kindergartner’s bottom row missing a few.

Students across the region returned to school Thursday, with a few exceptions. (Adirondack, Brookfield and the town of Webb started Tuesday; Central Valley, Dolgeville, Frankfort-Schuyler, Herkimer, Little Falls, Mount Markham, Owen D. Young, Poland and Westmoreland began Wednesday.)

After impatiently wearing her backpack at home for 45 minutes, it finally was time for Liah to join Miss Emily Hartman’s kindergarten class at John F. Hughes Elementary School. Brand new to the district, Hartman also was celebrating a first Thursday — the first day of her teaching career.

“Oh, Liah’s ready,” said Grullon, who has two older sons in second and fifth grade at Hughes. “She was the only one in preschool who cried when I picked her up from school. It’s a lot easier with her, even though I do worry because she’s my only girl. The boys cried and cried when I dropped them off for kindergarten, but she’ll be fine.”

And Liah appeared more than fine — she was eager. Dressed in a new purple, polka-dotted dress identical to the one her best friend was wearing to Jefferson Elementary, she had sparkly butterfly clips in her pigtails and new shiny earrings.

Her main concern?

“There’s another girl in my class named Leah,” Liah said. And then after a short pause, “OK, I’m ready.”

The brunette youngster — who naively estimated her book bag weighed about 50 pounds — held her mom’s hand as they walked into the elementary school, many of the older kids towering over her. She knew exactly where her classroom was, and pointed to an apple denoting her name just outside.

“Look, there’s my name!” she squealed.

“I’m gonna open the door now,” she added as she tugged the handle with both hands.

After giggling at a small toilet in the classroom’s personal bathroom, Liah found her seat in a circle of desks and began coloring until the rest of her classmates showed up.

Hartman’s class is part special education, so there are two teachers and a teaching assistant since she’s a first-year teacher.

“Are you half-nervous and half-excited?” Hartman asked her class, a diverse group of 4- and 5-year-olds sitting “crisscross-applesauce” on the carpet. “Because that’s how I feel.”

After teaching the class that the day was Thursday, Sept. 8, that it was sunny and warm, and that it still was summer, Hartman also discussed her classroom rules: You should listen to your teacher, wash your hands after using the bathroom and be kind.

“And come to school every day, OK?” she told her students. “I need you here.”

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