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School bells ring across Liberty
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Frank Long Elementary School paraprofessional Nicole Prince hands pencils to students as they rush by for their first day of classes Monday. - photo by Tiffany King

The annual Day One celebration kicked off the 2016-17 school year across Liberty County schools Monday.

Day One encourages local leaders, businesses and community members to welcome students back to school.  
At Frank Long Elementary School, students were greeted by teachers, staff, volunteers and Board of Education staff who handed out pencils and directed them to their classrooms.

Frank Long’s theme for this year is “Wild about learning. The future belongs to the curious.” The school mascot is an explorer and each hallway was decorated as different adventures, such as a safari or ocean adventure.  

Principal Dr. Debra Sukaratana said Day One shows the importance of working with the community for kids, while building positive relationships with parents and teachers.

Teachers have been working at the school weeks prior to the open house, which was Friday, and the first day to create an adventurous environment. Sukaratana said the staff worked well together to have everything ready for the students.

She is looking forward to highlighting Frank Long’s progress on the Georgia Milestones Assessment Systems test. She said the GMAS scores for kindergarten went up last school year. Frank Long recently received an F grade from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, which used CCRPI and GMAS scores from 2014-15.

“We’re starting to show we’re a group of hardworking teachers and staff,” the principal said. “Everyone is pumped because we’re ready to turn some negative thinking around. We have already shown that we’re a top contender where parents want their kids.”

Valarie Lawson, the new principal at Waldo Pafford Elementary, welcomed students and parents Monday with community volunteers holding signs and handing out pencils.

“Our slogan this year is ‘Every day, every student, progress.’ We’re looking forward to an exciting school year here,” Lawson said. “We have a wide variety of community here to welcome back our children to the school. I think it’s important for the community to know that they cannot live apart from the school.”

Lawson, who is from Jesup, said she is eager to get started and learn everything she can about Liberty County. She said it’s a new atmosphere at Waldo Pafford with more opportunities for parents to get involved.

Open house

Momentum for the first day of school was put into gear during open houses Friday.

Students and parents visited schools to meet teachers, learn schedules and sign up for programs.

Teachers and staff were particularly excited at Button Gwinnett Elementary School because of the renovations over the summer that included a new kitchen and cafeteria, enclosed media center, new carpets and flooring.

Elaine Moore attended the open house with her goddaughter, a student at Button Gwinnett, and she is expecting to see great things happen at the school.

Moore remembers what the school used to look like and was pleased with the renovations.

“I see my dollars at work from the school tax,” Moore said. “I see what they’re doing, not just at Button Gwinnett but at other schools.”

Parent Angelica Norman said she is eager to see how teachers will reinforce what she has already taught her daughter at home.

New kindergartner Faith Hendricks, 5, said she is ready to learn about math, science and art.

Teachers are also excited to work with new students like Hendricks. Second grade teachers Marie Glenn and Sharon Gilley said they are looking forward to meeting new students and interacting with their personalities.

First grade teacher James Baker, teaches STEM (science technology engineering math initiative) for his grade level. Baker is looking forward to doing a lot of hands-on approaches, while blending science, math and reading in his curriculum.

At Liberty County High School, Principal Stephanie Woods was enthusiastic for people to see the school’s new look. Over the summer, the school underwent extensive renovations in the cafeteria, common area, gymnasium and other areas.

Woods said getting ready for school was “a great feeling because this is where I got my start.”

“My first job in education was at this school and I taught here for 15 years, then from there I went to Bradwell for nine years as an assistant principal and then returned last year,” Woods said. “So that’s just a wonderful feeling to be back at what I consider to be home of the mighty Panthers.”

Junior Aaron Kuhl was motivated about the upcoming football season. He believes Liberty can bring home a championship this year. His mother Courtney England was more focused on academics.

“I’m looking forward to my daughter going to LCCA (Liberty College and Career Academy) this year,” England said. “She’s interested in being a chef and my son has completed the engineering courses. It’s exciting that the school system is helping support the children, getting them ready for college because that’s what I’m aiming for.”

Kuhl said he was ready for school to start.  

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