HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) – "We're really excited! Yeah," said third grader Leanna Nguyen.
"It has lots of big places and stuff and it's like so huge, like my brother's," said third grader Jessica Wallace.
"It's big. I like it. It's the first time in a building at school," said third grader Danae Fowler.
They sounded more excited than nervous on their first day of school. That's because the students started classes Thursday in the new North Bay Elementary School in Bay St. Louis.
The new building has special meaning for teacher Tammy Raymond.
"I went to the North Bay school that Katrina took away. That was my school," Raymond to her class.
Raymond was overwhelmed with emotion, as she talked about teaching in a new school.
"And just walk through the door, knowing that we have a brand new facility, and that brand new year. It's just emotional. But it's wonderful. It's wonderful and it's exciting," said Raymond with tears in her eyes.
"It's a new day. It's a new era in the Bay-Waveland School District," said North Bay Principal Myron Labat, Sr. "Our students and teachers have made sacrifices. We've now overcome that and we're now in the this brand new, spectacular building and we're just loving every minute of it."
After five years in trailers, the students now have a large cafeteria. Before, they had to walk across the street to get their lunches in the old school cafeteria. They also have a gym, which they didn't have before. And every classroom is loaded with state-of-the-art technology.
"It feels like we've turned the page and it feels like we are moving forward, back whole this morning," said Bay-Waveland Schools Superintendent Dr. Rebecca Ladner. "We have all students back in buildings this morning. It's a good feeling."
The school district is celebrating its recovery, after enduring so much devastation.
"It's been a great day. A lot of enthusiasm. Morale is high. Enrollment is up. We've waited for this day for a long time. It's a milestone. A lot of good things did come out of a bad situation and certainly this is one of them," said Ladner.
While many are ready to put Katrina behind them, Tammy Raymond will always have a reminder.
"This is a brick when they tore the old school down," said Raymond as she held up a faded yellow brick. "It's going to be a memory I can have and treasure and hold on to."
The lessons learned from the storm have made the North Bay family even stronger.
"I'm nervous and I'm excited too, but we're going to be together. It's going to be great," said Raymond.
North Bay opened with 427 students from third through fifth grade.
The new Waveland Elementary School also opened Thursday with 429 kindergartners, first, and second graders. The school has a bright cafeteria, replacing the tiny trailer that was used to serve food. And there's a gym. They've never had a gym before either.
The principal calls the new school a dream come true.
"I have never been able to invite parents in for the first day because even in our old school, we simply didn't have space. But today, to begin in our gorgeous new school, I invited parents to join us for the first hour. So this morning, we were packed and it was wonderful," said Waveland Elementary Principal Dr. Frances Weiler.
Both schools cost a total of $26 million. The district will host ribbon cutting ceremonies on August 31st.