It was back to work for all of Beersheba's schools on Tuesday, and the wails of sirens were replaced by the tunes playing over loudspeakers between periods at the city's elementary schools.
At the Neta'im Elementary School in the Gimel neighborhood, kids chased each other through the halls, while others studiously carried piles of books.
"We waited for the pupils at the door today with candy and hugs," said Principal Bat Ami Legmann. "The Home Front Command soldiers danced with them a little bit, and we tried to make the mood as light and as pleasant as possible."
Legmann said the idea was toensure a smooth transition.
"Really, this is like welcoming them back after the summer vacation," she said. "We kind of have to start over again as far as a daily routine is concerned."
The principal said staff also had to make the transition from pseudo-vacation to normal school week, even though many had been on the school's premises throughout Operation Cast Lead.
"We have to adapt as well," Legmann said. "Many of us live in Beersheba or within the rocket range, and we've all been affected by the events of the last three weeks. I was here every day of the war, and the teachers worked in shifts, but we were here, and we also went around the neighborhood, meeting with our pupils in their homes or in the shelters, so getting back to the regular schedule is something we have to work at."
The staff held two meetings before the pupils' first day back, and instructions were distributed on how to greet the children, along with the Home Front Command's guidelines on how to react if the rocket fire begins again.
"We have no shelters at this school," Legmann said. "Nor do we have any fortified rooms, so the pupils are supposed to get under their desks if we hear a siren. We held a drill earlier this morning, and they did exactly that."
"We have to be prepared for anything," she continued. "And the kids did just fine. Most of them are just excited to be back. If anything, I think it's the parents who are worried."
The fragile cease-fire and the fresh memories of sirens and booms left tension throughout the South on Tuesday. When a rocket strike was reported in the Shar Hanegev region later in the morning, the school's staff reacted stoically, but their worry was apparent nonetheless.
"We have to follow our instructions and listen to the soldiers," Legmann said, referring to the Home Front Command soldiers stationed at every school on Tuesday. "They receive updates all the time, and they'll tell us what to do."
A few minutes later, the strike was found to have been a false alarm, but it still reminded everyone of how delicate the situation really was.
"My job is to keep the kids calm and to help the parents understand what we're doing," Legmann said. "I plan to send a letter to parents every day as we continue this return process. But as a mother and as an educator I can tell you the hardest part about missing three weeks of school isn't the actual schoolwork - that can be made up, the kids can learn the material. It's coming back that's difficult, it's getting everyone back into the daily schedule."
Still, many of the children at Neta'im seemed calm and even excited.
"I wanted to come back, I missed my friends a lot," said Sharon, a girl who stopped to speak with Assistant Principal Hava Hos during the mad dash for recess.
"Last night, I couldn't sleep," Sharon continued. "Not because I was scared, but because I was so excited to see my friends. I haven't seen them in three weeks!"
"I had butterflies in my stomach this morning," chimed in another girl, Ruth.
"What did you do this morning in class?" Hos asked them. "What did you talk about?"
"We talked about the war and the sirens," Sharon said. "We talked about how much we appreciate the soldiers."
"Did they talk to you about the children in Gaza and what happened to their homes?" Hos asked her.
"Yes, we talked about that, too," Sharon replied. "I saw it on TV, all the damage. It's sad, but they have to stop shooting Kassam rockets at us."
As the girls ran off to play, Hos explained that part of the school's policy was to engage the kids in discussions, even about the more difficult sides of war.
"We try to explain to them that there are differences, that not all of the Palestinians are associated with Hamas," Hos said. "We're a pluralistic Jewish elementary school, and we try to incorporate understanding of others into our daily curriculum, and that's certainly important now."
Down the street at the Comprehensive Alef High School, pupils behaved as if they hadn't missed a beat.
Boys congregated outside the buildings, holding hands with their girlfriends, joking and fooling around.
Repairs on one of the school's buildings - which was hit dead-on by a Grad rocket in the first week of the war - has been completed, and life on the campus seemed to be returning to normal with ease.
Daniel Nevo, a 9th-grader who would have been in the classroom that was hit by the rocket, said he was thankful for Mayor Rubik Danilovitz's decision to cancel classes hours before the attack.
"Thank God we weren't here then," Nevo said. "But it's good to be back now. I missed my friends, and honestly it was starting to get boring at home. The girls have been a little bit nervous today, you know, they're a little scared. But that's what our job is as men, to step in and calm them down. With God's help, everything is going to be just fine."
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