PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The first day of school for Peoria Public Schools was Wednesday, two weeks ahead of many other school districts.

Local community leaders rolled out the red carpet to welcome back Sterling Middle School students on their first day. Students arriving at school were greeted by police officers, clergy, school staff, and other community members.

“We’re just here to encourage the kids, to help them have a great first day at school… This is really just about cheerleading, celebrating, telling them we hope they have a great year, and then it’s all about supporting them as the year goes on.,” said Robert Collins, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Peoria.

“We want our Jaguars to know we are supporting them from every aspect. There are people from all over the community that are here to cheer them on, get them ready, pumped, ready for an awesome school year,” said Lynn Lane, principal at Sterling Middle School.

Sixth grader Gakayke Williams said she appreciated the support for the community.

“I like it. It’s very welcoming,” she said.

Sixth grader Jarom Brady Jamison said he liked seeing police officers in a different way.

“Some people they get scared, but they’re not really that scary,” he said.

Peoria Public Schools is on a new modified 180-day calendar, which starts two weeks early but has longer breaks during the year.

“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for our students,” Lane said. “I think it’s going to allow a different sense of learning, give students breaks when they need them. However, [we will] also be able to hone in on differences they may need.”

PPS Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat said the modified calendar is beneficial for the mental health of both students and teachers.

“We’re going for the wellness, we’re going for the more frequent breaks, so that we can be rejuvenated and really be the best that we can be physically, mentally, emotionally… That’s what we’re going after,” she said.