HELENA, Ala. (WIAT) — Many children are heading back to the classroom Thursday.

At Helena Intermediate School in Shelby County students arrived to all faculty and staff in matching t-shirts with big smiles on their face, cheering them on as they entered the building.

The principal and teachers said it all starts with that warm welcome back.

Teachers said they want their classrooms to be an extension of home for their students, saying that connection and finding ways to identify with students is key.

Their school motto for the year is ‘Win the Day’- something they hope shows their students that it is important to have goals for the future, but there’s value in being present and focusing on the positives from each day.

“I’ve even thought maybe in my classroom at the end of the day saying, ‘Okay, what was a win and what’s something we can do better and maybe start incorporating?’ So they can see that tomorrow’s a new day- we’ve got a new start and we’re going to win today,” said Natalie Landrum, a 4th grade teacher at Helena Intermediate.

“We hope we are instilling, especially in this intermediate age-3rd through 5th grade-some character traits of ‘look for the positive’- be grateful, work hard, have grit, take risks, it’s okay to fail,” said Sasha Baker, Principal of Helena Intermediate.

Baker said they hope to see their students grow and succeed in being the best versions of themselves this year.

Students in Shelby County are walking into spruced up buildings this school year.

Helena Middle School and Helena Intermediate School have brand new additions both staff and students can benefit from. At Helena Intermediate a whole new wing has been added on to the building.

Principal Baker said this is the first time in many years all teachers will teach inside the main building instead of some having to teach in portable units outside.

This also allows teachers to teach in classrooms alongside their grade level teammates- a huge help for collaboration and lesson planning. Half of the new wing even serves as a storm shelter.

“I think it’s going to be what’s best for kids, and we’re going to be safer, and I think the kids are going to feel safer because I’ve looked forward to being able to say sometimes on the first of school you’ll notice the kids with weather anxiety, and I feel like well, you couldn’t be in a safer place,” said Landrum.

“Definitely having that added element of security always feels good,’ said Baker. “It’s just helps us be able to focus on what we need to be focusing on in school.”

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Lewis Brooks said the school district is following a new strategic plan with an ultimate goal of offering innovative instruction practices for students.

He shared students will have the opportunity to use VR goggles for college and career studies.

Over $40 million is also being dedicated to capital improvement projects across the district. Some of those funds went into the new learning spaces at Helena Middle School and Helena Intermediate school.