SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP — The fourth annual Dragon Back to School Bash celebrated the start of a new school year with a big party Monday afternoon for students in the Ashtabula Area City Schools District.

Hundreds of children, parents, teachers and administrators gathered in 78-degree weather under partly sunny skies at the Lakeside High School Stadium. The first day of school is Aug. 19 for children in the district.

“The start of the school year is such an exciting time,” Superintendent Mark Potts said. “We welcome back our families.”

Potts said the idea is to gather as a community to welcome students back in a day filled with fun and reach out to families with important information. Students and parents met teachers and staff and reunited with friends and classmates.

“We are providing a hot dog lunch, health screenings, school supplies and much more,” Potts said. “It’s really a wonderful community outreach.”

The support of the community and the district’s partners make the event a huge success, he said.

Lakeside High School Principal Bob Klinar said it’s a great time to reconnect with students’ families.

A  long line of families made their way through the gates for free food, prizes, games, drawings and information. 

Many businesses, social service agencies, community organizations and booster clubs manned 48 booths — double the number from last year — to provide families with free gifts, including bicycles, loaded backpacks and Wal-Mart gift cards.

Ashtabula County Medical Center offered free cinch gym bags and bandaids. Mauri Kosicek and Allison Brown said ACMC has participated in the event all four years.

“We enjoy it,” Kosicek said. “And there’s a nice breeze today.”

Kent State University Ashtabula campus and After School Discovery were just two of more than a dozen booths set up around the football field.

KSU Ashtabula provided information on its college credit program for high school students.

After School Discovery’s executive director, Linda Coblitz, had lots of young helpers handing out goodies to students.

Freshman cheerleader, Kiara May, 14, and her fellow cheerleaders manned a dunking booth, creating a great deal of laughter from participants.

Smokey the Dragon, Lakeside High School’s mascot, hugged students and good-naturedly mugged for photos.

Varsity and junior varsity cheerleaders entertained the crowd on the football field with their latest cheers, and during off time, they took turns painting dragons on children’s faces.

The district’s food service provided free hot dogs, snacks and drinks.

Reagan Hoskins, 10, of Ashtabula, looked forward to trying a snow cone, she said.

Mia Bernardo, 13, said she couldn’t wait to see her friends, while her friend, Bella Novak, 11, was anxious to eat the free food.

Jennifer Wright brought her 11-year-old son, Sebastian Shaefer, to the bash to “get him away from video games for awhile and pick up information about the new school year.”

Tiffany Lott of Ashtabula brought three children: Natalie, 13; Amelia, 11, and Steven, 7. 

“I’m here to get information and have some fun,” she said. “It’s a great event.”

School officials also used the event to reach out to families with important information about the upcoming school year, such as bus routes, supply lists and the Dragon football schedule.