BELLEVILLE, Ill. – Lots of alarms went off early Thursday morning as thousands more Illinois students in the region headed back to school. Among the districts starting is District 118 in Belleville.

From kindergarten through sixth grade, 400 kids go to Westhaven Elementary, which is part of District 118. They arrived to a ‘welcome back’ sign and inspiring messages written outside the school.

FOX 2 spoke with families about the start of the new school year.

“I’m emotional because I have a 5th grader and a 4th grader now, so they’re growing up,” mom Shanae Anderson said. “But I’m excited to get them back in school, so they can get back to structure.”

“I’m excited to go back to school because I want to learn more and get smart,” said her daughter Rylee.

Shanae’s other daughter, Ayrial told FOX 2, “I’d rather go back to summer break, but I like being at school as well, so I like both.”

District 118 has 3,300 students at 11 schools. There are eight elementary schools, two junior high schools, and one pre-kindergarten center. Upgrades to the campuses include new cameras and monitoring systems at each school. More secure entrances are being put in at every school as well.

District leaders are also trying to make sure that all students, staff, and families in District 118 have a sense of belonging in school and in the community.

The Westhaven Principal, Allen Spargur, said that the first day of school is always exciting.

“My favorite part it’s happening right now,” You see the smiles, kids coming off the bus, everybody’s waiving, happy just to walk through the door – it fills us up.”

Our Bommarito Automotive Group SkyFOX flew over Central Junior High School right next to Westhaven Elementary, making the first day of school a little more special. Bishop also made the day special at Westhaven.

The six-year-old chocolate lab is around the school all the time and puts lots of smiles on people’s faces. It was all part of a Fun First Day Back event in Belleville.

After finishing the eighth grade, students in District 118 switch over to District 201, which has Belleville East and Belleville West High Schools.