About 23,000 students arrived at Aiken County public and private schools Monday, from one end of the county to the other.
Teachers jumped in quickly with welcome smiles, schedules and expectations. Kindergarten children hung on to their parents as long as they could, and sixth-graders finally succeeded in opening their lockers.
New Ellenton Middle School parent Natalie Lee said she's excited for her sixth-grade son, Kevion Tyler.
“It's a new chapter of him growing up,” she said.
Tyler quickly responded to his mom, “You just want to enjoy your 'me' time.” His mom laughed.
'Off to a great start'
School District Superintendent Dr. Beth Everitt visited Wagener-Salley High School and Schofield Middle School Monday.
“We're off to a great start,” she said. “The schedules were running smoothly, and everything was humming smoothly.”
King Laurence, the associate superintendent for instruction, enjoyed a visit to North Aiken Elementary School. The students in every classroom already were engaged and getting to know each other.
For the second full year, Aiken County public school students are moving to the national Common Core academic standards. This is the final “pilot” year for the standards, which are being used by about 46 states – a first-ever collaboration of its kind.
South Carolina's school districts will take the existing Palmetto Assessment of State Standards tests next spring. Common Core exams will be fully introduced in the spring of 2015. The district is moving forward with a curriculum that is aligned with the new standards, Laurence said. He acknowledged the new exams will be very challenging.
“We do have high expectations,” he said. “By 2014-15, we are going to be better prepared.”
School volunteers also are gearing up for the new year. For the past decade, Aiken Rotary Club member Fred Kelsven has visited Greendale Elementary School to mentor a child selected by the school.
“I worked with a first-grader last year, and he liked me,” Kelsven said. “So I'm going back to work with him again.”
Tina Gregory, a PTO volunteer at Clearwater Elementary School, said several other PTO members visited the school Monday.
“We're just trying to help our teachers and students transition into their roles on the first day.”
Transitioning to high school
Although the youngest children and sixth-graders tend to be anxious about the start of school, high school administrators and teachers are most concerned about the transition that ninth-graders face. Venning Morris, the Wagener-Salley social studies department chair, spent time with freshmen Monday.
“I'm excited like the kids are,” he said. “It's a brand new year. These are all little freshmen. They're all here from the middle school. We're starting them off with the basics.”
Tami Shaffer was a Wagener-Salley teacher before moving to South Aiken High School as an assistant principal. She coordinates the school's freshman academy and was pleased with an orientation meeting last week that provided information to the ninth-graders and their parents.
“Our core of freshman teachers are committed to common planning and assessments of the ninth-grade data,” Shaffer said. “Some students will need help. We're trying to be organized in advance and get the information out to the parents.”
At the elementary schools, parents, of course, were more likely to bring their children in and stay for a while to talk with the teachers and say goodbye to the kids.
“I'm looking forward to my daughter going to the second grade,” said Gloverville Elementary School parent Dana Burke. “She has a wonderful teacher, and she's going to learn a lot. So we're just praying for God to watch over all of us and give us all patience.”
Haley Ragsdale, a Belvedere Elementary School student, said, “I am kind of excited, but scared of how fourth grade will turn out for me. I'm glad to see my friends and teachers, though.”
Since arriving at Millbrook Elementary School in 1997, media specialist Michelle Goings has long eliminated the cards in the back of the books, as well as other “ancient” procedures. She talked with several classes, reminding or informing the children about checking out books.
“I have a Kindle, but I like books and holding them in my hands,” Goings said. “I encourage children to do that. If we don't, books will be no longer, and I can't imagine that. ... We're trying to create life-long learners.”
Mead Hall – now beginning its second year after the private Episcopal school merged with Aiken Prep last year – welcomed students from both campuses with three short services at St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church.
On Monday, 4-year-old kindergarten student Heidi Bramlett enjoyed a cool escort – her dad, Master Public Safety Officer Matt Bramlett, and another officer, Matthew Gordon. Heidi got to show off her new Minnie Mouse lunchbox to Father Grant Wiseman and the head of school, Kitty Gordon.
Heidi's mother, also named Heidi, appreciates the opportunities for her daughter and other kids to go to chapel to learn more than other preschools.
During the brief services, Gordon welcomed the students and parents, and Wiseman shared a prayer.
Gordon said Mead Hall has about 330 students enrolled in grades 3K through 12.
“Last July, we did not know for certain whether or not Mead Hall and Aiken Prep were going to combine,” she said. “So this year, we knew ... we'd have all summer to prepare, so we're really excited to be back together.”
Aiken Standard reporters Derrek Asberry, Dede Biles, Teddy Kulmala, Maayan Schechter and Stephanie Turner and North Augusta Star News Editor Scott Rodgers contributed to this article.