COLUMBIA — Four-year-old Evelyn O’Toole gazed in awe at the array of blue and gold balloons spread across the sky during Columbia Independent School’s back-to-school event on Friday morning.
“She has seen her brother doing it before,” said Evelyn’s mother, Jane O’Toole, about the balloon launch. “She is so excited to get to be a part of it this year.”
A tradition begun in 1998, the school organizes the balloon launch annually. Deb Swanson, the school's business manager, said the event symbolizes the start of the academic year. Students in the upper school, which includes grades nine through 12, help the kindergarteners release balloons in the school's backyard.
With about 350 students enrolled at the school, this event gives them a sense of belonging, parent Julie Melnyk said.
The launch helps nurture an environment where older and younger students know one another, said Lisa Tschopp, president of the parent association.
“It brings (the students) together, and it gets them ready for a new year,” Tschopp said.
The balloons the school uses for the launch are biodegradable balloons made of natural rubber latex, said Mark Farnen, a member of the board of trustees. He described the event as uplifting.
"The use of the biodegradable balloons instills in kids the values of responsibility, fairness and honesty," Farnen said. "Any way you can exhibit those values everyday helps."