TEMPLE TERRACE - It was hard to judge whether the children were mesmerized by the welcoming and warm demeanor of the person seated before them or by the story lines in the books he read to them.
Some 20 soon-to-be students at Riverhills Elementary Magnet School for International Studies recently gathered with their moms and grandmas at the Temple Terrace Public Library to meet Principal Todd Connolly, who in turn treated them all to glittery crowns and a half-hour story time.
Spread out on squared carpet mats compliments of the library, the youngsters glued their eyes to Connolly and giggled repeatedly as he recited the verbiage and showed various pictures from his two book selections, "Bedhead" and "The Frog Princess."
Taking it all in were Riverhills' lead teacher Diana Favata and fifth grade teacher David Chiriboga.
"Our whole intent is to welcome our children and their families so they will feel comfortable on the first day of school," Connolly said.
When Riverhills opens in August it will draw students from New Tampa to Ruskin, chosen by way of a lottery system. That's in contrast to the school's past, when the enrollment consisted primarily of students living the greater Temple Terrace community.
It also will launch its new International Baccalaureate curriculum, one that is project-based and emphasizes independent thinking and a collaborative approach to problem solving.
It will be one of three elementary magnet programs in the Hillsborough County School District and among just 378 similar programs in the nation, according to information provided on the International Baccalaureate Organization website, ibo.org.
Riverhills' PTA President Jamie Malloy was on hand at the event with her young son, Hank, and hoped to entice other mothers to join the organization.
She's thrilled about the new IB magnet program. "It will be great for the kids because they will work together to accomplish goals," Malloy said.
Chiriboga, a 2012 University of South Florida graduate, said the concept reminds him of how students were taught when he was a child.
"It's more a hands-on environment and the lumping of subjects," he said.
Favata said she is grateful for the support Riverhills' new program has received from the Temple Terrace community.
"We're really excited to be working with so many organizations - from the Temple Terrace Woman's Club to the Temple Terrace chamber," she said.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at JoyceCMcKenzie@gmail.com.