(CNN) - The sign that covered a set of doors read, "We Love You Plaza Towers."
Children, toting big book bags and balloons, hugged their teachers and said goodbye before departing for the summer.
Many managed a smile despite the sad fact these end-of-the-year moments took place at Eastlake Elementary School because Plaza Towers is just a huge pile of rubble.
Kaylee Sanchez, a kindergartner who was shielded by one of her teachers as the storm plowed over Plaza Towers, said she was "freaking out" before going to Thursday's reunion.
But once she and the other children got there, laughter and playfulness returned to a group that suffered the worst when an EF5 tornado struck Monday.
Seven of their schoolmates were killed by the storm, which lead to 17 other deaths.
Kaylee's mother, Maria, applauded administrators for putting together the sendoff where students also received a backpack full of activities, snacks, stuffed animals and some basic necessities for the coming days.
"It's a really good thing because they get to see all their friends to make sure they are OK," Maria Sanchez said. "It's a good atmosphere to see the all these kids laughing and playing. ... My own daughter has been scared until today. When it started storming this morning she didn't want to come."
Pounding rain soaked Moore on Thursday morning, and winds sent pieces of debris flying, hindering recovery efforts three days after the devastating tornado.
Once she got there, Maria and the other children spilled around, and raced up to each other when they saw someone they had been worrying about.
Emily Stephens, a student at Plaza Towers, said she was in an underground shelter when the tornado hit.
"I just hope everyone's OK," she said. "I hope they get a new house - and a better one."
Stephens said "some of my house got ripped down."
She was happy to get the crayons, books and candy and, most importantly, see her classmates.
"It makes me glad to see my friends and that they're alive," she said.
(CNN) - When first-grade teacher Waynel Mayes saw that a tornado was approaching her Oklahoma elementary school, she began to move the desks around, told the kids they were playing "worms" who had to stay in their tunnels.
Then, she had another idea: She grabbed their musical instruments and asked them to play and sing as loud as they could. They could scream if they were scared, she said, but just don't stop singing.
"All our teachers were so brave," Mayes said, but the kids helped, too. "They were the bravest, they were the heroes because they listened to all the teachers."
By Brittany Brady, CNN
(CNN) - Asked which school meals were their favorites, students at a public school in the New York borough of Queens don't say chicken fingers or meatballs. Instead, they name rice and kidney beans, black bean quesadillas or tofu with Chinese noodles.
"Whoever thought they would hear a third-grader saying that they liked tofu and Chinese noodles?" asked Dennis Walcott, New York City schools chancellor.
Walcott was at the Active Learning Elementary School this week to celebrate its move to all-vegetarian meals five days a week. The school of nearly 400 students, from pre-kindergarten to third grade, was founded five years ago on the principle that a healthy lifestyle leads to strong academic achievement.
"We decided on a vision where health and nutrition would be a part of educating the whole child," school principal Bob Groff said.
The school's focus on healthier meals began three years ago when Groff noticed a majority of students were bringing their own vegetarian meals. The school went meatless three days a week about a year and a half ago. It also tested meals on a small group of students, gathering feedback and changing the menu accordingly.
Active Learning's student body may be more accustomed to vegetarian diets than most, with 85% of the students being Asian and another 10% Hispanic, said Margie Feinberg, spokeswoman for the New York Department of Education.
"Rice was a staple of many of their home foods," Groff said of the students.
(CNN) - Pam Mathers was a half-mile away from the Boston Marathon finish line when bombs exploded Monday. The Michigan resident wasn't injured, but she didn't finish the race. Students back at Hamilton Elementary School in Troy, Michigan, where Mathers is principal, didn't want her months of training to end without celebration. They created a symbolic finish line so they could cheer her on, CNN affiliate WDIV reported.
(CNN) - Three struggling elementary schools in Yonkers, New York, are dramatically reducing the length of summer vacation in an attempt to turn the institutions around.
The schools days will be longer, and summer vacation will last only one month, starting August 1.
Some parents are upset, saying it cuts down on valuable family time, and kids' opportunities to participate in summer sports and activities. A researcher argues that kids aren't robots, and can benefit from a break.
But Bernard Pierorazio, superintendent of Yonkers Public Schools, say the decision is made.
"We have to do something different," he said.
What do you think? Would shorter summers would help your children learn, or improve their schools? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter @CNNschools.
By Jareen Imam, CNN
(CNN) - Inside her Oxford, Ohio, kindergarten classroom, Christine Milders has 24 cubbies, 24 tables and 24 seats. It's a perfect fit for her 24 little students, no more.
But come next fall, she expects that number will grow to 30. That's when forced federal spending cuts, also known as the sequester, will kick in and start chipping away at education funding.
"Where will I put six more students?" Milders asked. "My young learners come to my classroom with little or no school experience. I not only need to meet their academic needs, but their social and emotional needs as well."
The government is set to cut $85 billion through the end of the fiscal year, September 30. Of that money, $2.5 billion will be coming out of the Department of Education's $70 billion budget.
Uncertainties surround how these large cuts will affect schools, because the decisions will be made on the state and local levels. But with budget cuts looming, many teachers like Milders are wondering what's left to cut.
Milders, who has taught kindergarten for 17 years, worries that more cuts to education will not only affect her students' ability to learn and grow, but also fears she will eventually be replaced by a younger and cheaper teacher, as she put it. "It happens often," she said.
(CNN) - One of Wendy Killian's young students was ill. Eight-year-old Nicole Miller was born with a genetic disorder and in need of a kidney transplant. The girl was exhausted and often missed class, although her parents did their best to keep her up to speed.
During a parent-teacher conference, Killian asked Nicole's mom, what does your daughter need in a donor?
As she listed off the requirements for a match, "I just kept thinking, 'Huh. That's me,'" said Killian, a teacher at Mansfield Christian School in Ohio.
Now, she's preparing her students to work with a substitute teacher, and preparing her own sons to face her recuperation.
When the hospital calls, Killian will be giving Nicole a kidney.
By Josh Levs, Ed Payne and Ashley Fantz, CNN
(CNN) - A Colorado school's ruling over a transgender child has sparked questions that could affect schools all over the country.
Which bathroom should be used by a child who identifies as a different gender from his or her body? Where's the line between accommodation and discrimination? At what point is a child old enough for that to even be an issue?
The case focuses on Coy Mathis, a 6-year-old born with a boy's body. She identifies as a girl, and her family is raising her as a girl.
In kindergarten, she used the girl's bathroom with no problem, the family says. But this year, with Coy in first grade, the principal called to set up a meeting to discuss bathroom use. In advance of the meeting, the family asked what the policies are.
"We were told that there were no written policies and that the options would be for Coy to use the boys' restroom or the staff bathroom or the nurse's bathroom for the sick children, which were both on the opposite end of the building," Coy's father, Jeremy Mathis, said on CNN's "Starting Point" on Thursday.
That "would stigmatize her, having to be the only one having to go to a different bathroom, so we weren't OK with that."
The family contacted the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. When an attorney with that group could not work something out with the school, the group filed a state civil rights complaint on the family's behalf.
In the meantime, Coy is being home schooled - partly because her parents fear bullies may make fun of her.
"The district firmly believes it has acted reasonably and fairly with respect to this issue," the school district's attorney, W. Kelly Dude, said in a written statement. "However, the district believes the appropriate and proper forum for discussing the issues identified in the charge is through the Division of Civil Rights process. The district is preparing a response to the charge which it will submit to the division. Therefore, the district will not comment further on this matter out of respect for the process which the parents have initiated."
The school calls Coy a girl as the family wishes, Dude said.
(CNN) - Just like she did during the first half of the school year, first-grader Coy Mathis wants to use the girls' restroom at her Colorado elementary school. But school officials won't let her.
The reason? Coy is transgendered, born with male sex organs but a child who identifies herself as female.
She dressed as a girl for most of last year. And her passport and state-issued identification recognize her as female.
In December, the Fountain-Fort Carson School District informed Coy's parents that Coy would be barred from using the girls' restrooms at Eagleside Elementary in Fountain after winter break.
She could instead use the boys' bathroom, gender-neutral faculty bathrooms or the nurse's bathroom, the district said.
In making the decision, the district "took into account not only Coy but other students in the building, their parents, and the future impact a boy with male genitals using a girls' bathroom would have as Coy grew older," attorney W. Kelly Dude said."However, I'm certain you can appreciate that as Coy grows older and his male genitals develop along with the rest of his body, at least some parents and students are likely to become uncomfortable with his continued use of the girls' restroom."
Coy's parents see it differently.
(CNN) - For the first time since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Christine Wilford plans do something remarkable on Thursday that once was routine: drop her child off at school.
The last time her 7-year-old son, Richie, was in class was on December 14, when a gunman smashed his way into his school in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 26 children and adults.
As shots rang out, Richie's teacher locked the door and huddled her students into the corner as the shooter roamed the hallways, wielding an AR-15 assault rifle and firing.
When it appeared safe, the children were then hurried away to a nearby fire station, where teary parents either reunited with their sons and daughters or learned that they had been killed.
Nearly a month later, Wilford said her son still has trouble sleeping and is often scared by loud noises.
But on Thursday, he will join hundreds of other Newtown students returning to class for the first time since the tragedy.
"We think it's good he's going back," Wilford said. "If I leave my child anywhere, I'm leaving a piece of my heart, so it's difficult to leave him."
But Richie apparently isn't afraid and says he's looking forward to seeing his friends, she said.
Instead, Richie and his classmates are expected to travel to Chalk Hill Middle School in the nearby town of Monroe, where a green-and-white banner greeting the children hangs on a fence.