Families flock to 12th annual Charleston First Day Festival

Volunteers Debra Peterson, Zariah Clay and Payton Ladson unload bags filled with school supplies as hundreds of families lined up during the First Day Festival Sunday August 27, 2014. Approximately 4,000 bags of school supplies were handed out to school children.

Laughter and excitement filled the air at Liberty Square on Sunday as parents and children gathered to mark the last hurrah before the start of another school year, which for most Lowcountry students begins on Monday.

Children and their parents converged on Liberty Square and the Maritime Center in downtown Charleston on Sunday afternoon for Charleston's First Day Festival, an annual event for families to get free school supplies and for the city to encourage parents to get involved in their children's education.

"It's been a great turnout," said First Day Festival Coordinator Leah Cockerham.

Festival organizers anticipated a turnout of at least 10,000, but Cockerham noted that with a push for more publicity this year festival organizers were expecting higher numbers.

The festival, now in its 12th year, is organized by the City of Charleston through the Mayor's Office for Children, Youth and Families. Free school supplies are a big draw, as is free admission to the aquarium, free boat rides on the harbor, games and food. Cockerham said there were 70 exhibits focusing on a variety of topics from health and wellness to enrichment programs for children. A total of 4,000 bags of free school supplies were on hand for students, and many exhibitors were also handing out free pencils and notebooks.

"It's a great way to start getting people excited for the first day of school," Cockerham said.

The focus of many of the exhibits, Cockerham said, was to get parents engaged in their children's education.

"It's very important that the parents are just as involved as their children in the education process," she said.

Parents were happy to take advantage of the free school supplies. Many also said they jumped at the chance to have a free visit at the South Carolina Aquarium.

Bambi Aumock brought her three children, ages eight, five and two, to the festival. She made a beeline for the school supplies where she snagged two bags before letting her older two children go play on the jump castles.

"We just wanted to get out and get the kids something to do," she said.

Aumock's mother, Jeanett Aumock, said her grandchildren were having a blast. The next stop, Jeanett Aumock said, was to the aquarium.

"The kids love it and it's educational to them," she said. "We've got some very curious children."

Bambi Aumock said she was ready for the 5 a.m. wake-up call Monday morning to get her 8-year-old ready for the bus.

"We've got to be at the bus stop by 6:30 a.m.," she said.

Natalya Pais said she too snagged a bag of school supplies for her son before heading to the aquarium. Pais said it was her family's first time at the festival, and she was impressed with the family friendly activities.

"I think it's awesome," she said.

Pais said her son, who will be starting the sixth-grade on Monday, has been looking forward to starting school for weeks.

"We've been ready," she said of heading back to school. "We're already working on a sixth-grade book report."