Lyons Elementary students streamed into their school today for the first time since the September floods, spending the morning writing messages for a mural project and getting reacquainted with their much missed playground.

"It's a homecoming," said Lyons Elementary Principal Andrew Moore.

Lyons Middle-Senior High students also returned to their school today. Both schools had been vacant since the St. Vrain River began flooding early Sept. 12. Lyons was hit hard during the flooding, with the town's electrical, water and sewage systems damaged and residents mostly evacuated from town. The school district moved all 700 Lyons students to the Main Street School in Longmont until the schools could reopen.

By Thanksgiving week, most of the town's families had been able to return home as utilities in the north-central part of town were turned back on. Today, 339 students were at Lyons Elementary -- just 20 fewer than before the flooding.

"It feels really good to get back to our school," said fifth-grader Dylan Zimmerman. "I'm really glad it wasn't destroyed."

Students said they missed their large playground the most while attending school in Longmont, where they only had a small patch of grass for recess. They said they also missed their classrooms and all the school's equipment and supplies.

"I'm so excited," said fifth-grader Monte Pickering. "I missed being here."

This morning, each student and teacher wrote or drew a "message to the world" on a whiteboard and then was photographed holding the message -- while the rest of the students listened to holiday songs performed by Denver's Mariachi Vasquez. The photos will go on wood blocks that will be used to make a mural for the school.

Their messages included "I love Lyons," "I want more flowers and rainbows" and "Stay strong and be kind to other people."

Fifth-grader Hannah Saucier's message was "Let the sun shine through your eyes." She picked that, she said, because "you can show your feelings and be happy."

She said returning to her school "just feels better."

Teachers were equally excited.

"It's been a long, hard haul," said Lynn Barr, a teacher's aide. "I'm so happy to be home again, and I don't even live here. It's so wonderful to be back in our building with all of our materials and classrooms."

Third-grade teacher Dawn Lundell, who lives in Lyons and has a fifth-grader at the elementary and an eighth-grader at the middle/senior, said they lived with friends in Lyons until utilities were restored to their neighborhood earlier in November.

Settling back into her classroom, she said, "is amazing. It's where we're supposed to be."

Still, she said, it's also bittersweet knowing some students who lost their homes likely won't be returning.

"It seems like every classroom has one or two who lost everything," she said.

Parent Tanya Daty, who's a regular volunteer at the school and also helped with the evacuation center in Lyons during the flood, said the school's gym was used for evacuees during the flood and then the library was used for a temporary town hall.

"Just seeing it as a school again is really emotional," she said. "We're back at school and things are starting to feel normal again."