COLUMBIA - Four small third-grade voices led the crowd gathered on the wet lawn at the Columbia Independent School in a cheer Wednesday morning.
On the count of three, 216 students let loose a field of blue and gold balloons.
Some students had released their balloons a little early; two friends tied their balloon strings together; a few had already popped theirs. As the students let go, upturned faces and pointed fingers followed the colorful orbs that drifted further away into the sky.
The balloons were part of a kickoff event for the 2008-2009 school year and marked the 10th anniversary of the Columbia Independent School's opening on the Stephens College campus. The first balloon launch occurred at the school's inauguration. After several years of absence, the event was revived in 2006 and has since become an annual tradition.
Barbara Savage, director of the Lower School, which consists of kindergarten through 5th grade, described the ceremony as a metaphor that represents the joy of learning, spirit of adventure and pleasures of friendship.
In previous years, students attached postcards in plastic bags to the balloons they released. These cards included the school address so people who found them could return them and students could track where their note ended up. Following last year's launch, about two dozen cards were returned, some from as far away as the Mississippi River.
This year, administrators, with input from students and teachers, eliminated the cards because many of them did not get returned in the past and organizers wanted to lessen any environmental impact from the balloons, said Karen Shryock, Director of Communications. To make the balloons more environmentally friendly, this year they were tied with jute string, a hemp-like twine often used by gardeners.