County students return to classrooms

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First day of school always exciting, but hectic

By The Staff

Summer vacation ended Monday, Aug. 18, for Lancaster County public school students as more than 11,500 headed back to school for the start of the 2014-15 school year.


Here is a little snapshot at what went on at several schools:

Harrisburg and Indian Land elementary schools

A little more than 800 students had the distinction of being the first to attend the county’s newest school, Harrisburg Elementary School.

“I want to welcome all of you to the first-ever morning announcements for Harrisburg Elementary,” Principal Steven Puckett said over the school’s intercom shortly after the tardy bell rang.

Puckett said later everything went even smoother than expected, especially with the first day’s traffic, a fact that bodes well for coming weeks as the new school establishes its routines and expectations. 

“Moving ahead, the focus will be on establishing not only a culture of learning, but also of fun,” Puckett said. “We want our students to associate learning with fun … so they’ll learn to enjoy learning.”

Five miles away, Indian Land Elementary School was also feeling the effects of its sister school’s opening – for the first time in years, the school opened with fewer than 900 students.

“Everyone was in the building by 7:20 (a.m.); that has never happened before. It was the smoothest opening day we ever had,” Principal Beth Blum said. “Not having classes in mobiles is wonderful. It’s just a lot calmer. We’ve got lots of new staff and everyone is getting settled in. It’s going to be a good year.”


– Reece Murphy


A.R. Rucker Middle School

The sound of students trying out their lockers for the first time filled the hallways of A.R. Rucker Middle School on Monday morning, Aug. 18. 

Standing amidst the loud clanging noises was sixth-grader Omazeon Tinsley, 11, who waited patiently outside teacher Tisha Simmons’ classroom before heading to his next class.

Tinsley smiled as he described his excitement at getting his school year off to a good start. 

“It’s been going really good,” Tinsley said. “I came prepared and ready to work.”

Though he’s anxious for many of his classes, there’s one in particular he can’t wait to start.

“Math. That’s my favorite subject because it’s easy,” he said. 

A few hallways over, seventh-grader Ali Faile, 12, walked alongside her fellow classmates. She said she wasn’t worried at all about the first day of school. 

“It’s been a good day. I was ready for today because I put together all of my notes and got my school supply shopping done,” Faile said. “I was excited to see my friends, too.”

That excitement for a new school year could also be felt from Principal Phillip Mickles, who spent most of his day walking the halls, checking on students and teachers alike. 

“The teachers have been planning well and when you plan well then things go smoothly. I’m just glad the kids are back in the building,” Mickles said. 

Mickles said the school’s theme this year revolves around the word ‘ubuntu,’ a South African term popularized by Nelson Mandela which expresses kindness and unity. 

“It means ‘I am because we are,’” Mickles said.

Mickles described an African folk tale about a man who tells a group of children to race toward a piece of fruit, with the winner claiming the prize. Instead, the children joined hands and ran together. 

“They said that was so they all could participate and it would not benefit just one person,” he said. “That’s what the word means.”

Before heading back to his office, Mickles was met by Lancaster County School District Superintendent Dr. Gene Moore who was stopping to talk to all the district’s principals. 

“So far it’s been very good. We’ve had a good opening everywhere, especially the new elementary school in Indian Land,” Moore said.


– Chris Sardelli


Andrew Jackson High School

KERSHAW – Andrew Jackson High School sophomores Kianna Fletcher and Keyara Matthews stood in the empty hallway trying to unlock a locker. 

“It’s too many people,” Keyara said of the school’s 661 student body members.  “But the teachers are nice.”

“As Kianna arranged a stack of books in her arms, she had a more settled reply.

“It’s good so far,” she said.

AJHS Principal Alex Dabney spent time talking with teachers and students in and out of his office most of the morning. 

“It’s been real good.” Dabney said. “We're up 60 students but it's been an excellent start. If the rest of the year is like this, I’ll be completely pleased.”


– Denyse Clark


Buford High School 

Buford High School physical education teachers Lael Allen and Eric Funderburk started the first morning of the new school year in the place they started the morning of the last one; sitting on the steps behind the school gym.

The two had parking lot duty and Funderburk had already called for Jason Adams to return.

“Left his lights on,” Funderburk said. Within minutes, Jason was back out there taking care of business. 

Some things change and some stay the same. A row of pickups were still backed into a row along the back side of the parking lot.

At 8 a.m. Monday, friends were still sitting inside those trucks delaying the inevitable with Allen and Funderburk keeping a close eye. 

“The early risers are already inside,” Funderburk said. “These are the ones who want to sleep in.”

BHS student Johnanthan Hill stopped by to see the two teachers on his way inside.  He was hard to miss in the get-up strapped to his chest. Hill had surgery on a torn labrum about two weeks ago and his arm was in a sling that kept it level and away from his body at the same time.

“I’m ready to get out of this thing already,” Hill said, before heading to homeroom on the first day of school. 

By 8:25 a.m., the traffic circle in front of the main building was so quiet you could hear chirping crickets and a small airplane flying overhead. It was the same way in the halls as students were where they were supposed to be.

The only thing that looked out of place was the bag of ripe red tomatoes hanging on the office doorknob of BHS bookkeeper Earline Bowers.

“You know, I’ve done this before, I just haven’t done it here,” said Rodney Miller, who was recently named BHS principal. “Buford is a good place with good community support from everyone. We are looking forward to a great year.”  


– Greg Summers 


Heath Springs Elementary School

HEATH SPRINGS – STEAM is the theme for the 2014-15 academic year for the 405 students of Heath Springs Elementary School. 

This includes combined initiatives in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math to help students become proficient in these fields.

On the wall outside of kindergarten teacher Janice Bradley’s room was the phrase, “Full Steam Ahead!”

Bradley and teacher Melisa Truesdale spent the morning doing orientation with kindergartners’ parents, while on the other side of the school, kindergarten aides Susan Blackmon and Stacie Todd did orientation with kindergarten students like Ryder Lucas, 5, who explained how his first day of school was going.

“I’ve been doing stuff,” Ryder said. “It’s good.”

First grade student, Kaitlin Happel, 6, in teacher Monica Polson's class shared her first-day experience.

“It’s my first day here. I feel happy.” Kaitlin said. “We’ve been learning how to read some books. It makes it fun because I also got to write.”

Reading coach Stacie White read a book to first -grade students who listened attentively to every word she spoke.

In the school hallway, Christine Kellin, a second- grade teacher, conducted a tornado drill with her students. The drill was necessary because in first grade, students go to a restroom during a drill. On Monday, the second graders learned to kneel down against the wall in the hall and cover their heads.

Fifth-grade teacher Brandan Craig, one of three new teachers at the school, passed out information to his students and answered their questions. 

Lisa Bowers, the parent coordinator, said the first day at Heath Springs Elementary was good overall. 

“It has went really well,” she said. “The kids came in with smiles on their faces and we have three new teachers – all men – so it's a lot for them to learn. It’s been a good day.”


– Denyse Clark


McDonald Green Elementary School

Audible excitement surrounded the day in room 32 of McDonald Green Elementary School. Just after 8 a.m., parents accompanied their kindergartners from the school auditorium to Mary Waldrop’s classroom to officially start the day.

As parents signed their children in, students were greeted by Waldrop and directed to their seats.

Kindergartner Amir Ware, staying close to his father, Antwon, surveyed the room while holding back his elation for the upcoming day.

“I’m excited, and we sang and danced in the auditorium,” Ware said about his day so far.

On the other side of the school, third-graders in Holly Larkin’s class crossed the school in a well-formed line. Among the students was Cynthia Danley who was eager to talk about her return to school.

“It’s going really good and I’m having fun. I liked meeting the other people in my class today,” Danley said.

McDonald Green Principal Michelle Crosby was on-hand, checking the progress of the day in each of the classrooms.

“The first day has gone well. We’re all very excited to be back,” Crosby said. “Our school theme is ‘Learning Through the Decades,’ and at the district meeting our theme was ‘Red Hot.’ We are a ‘red hot’ school; this school is on fire.”


– Laura Caskey


North Elementary School

Across town, the energy at North Elementary School was also at peak levels. Staff members moved through the hallways – directing parents and students – making sure everything went according to plan.

To start their day, third-graders were gathered in the school cafeteria to go over the school’s handbook and 2014-15 theme, “Exploring Our World.”

Third-grader Rilee Payne waited patiently at a table with her classmates and friends before the assembly. She was already overwhelmed with everything that had happened in the first two hours of school.

“I’m having a good day. We’ve been reading books and doing crafts today,” Payne said.

Some of the students had already gone to their first elective classes of the year, including second-graders who met with gym teacher Rose Clawson on Monday morning.

Esther Ballseteros was among the students seated on the wood floors of the gymnasium waiting for instructions.

Ballseteros, whose class had started the day by drawing pictures of what they did during the summer, said she loves school.

“I like to learn something new and am glad to see my friends,” Ballseteros said.

North Elementary assistant principal Cory Hyslop was pleased with how smoothly the first day went.

“We’ve started the day off well, with no traffic problems,” Hyslop said. “We’re extremely pleased with how everything has gone so far.”


– Laura Caskey


South Middle School

With her trusty iPad in hand, South Middle School Principal Joyce Crimminger quickly walked the halls of her school on Monday, Aug. 18, stopping every few feet to peek her head inside a classroom. 

Craning her neck around the rooms, Crimminger marveled at the teacher-made creations adorning doors and hanging from ceilings, from construction paper posters to full-size paintings. Exuding tons of ebullient energy, it was hard not to see she’s been looking forward to this day all summer long. 

“Just seeing the energy, seeing everything new that’s been put up in the school, seeing all the classrooms decorated–it’s great,” she said. 

By mid-morning the school was already filled with 509 students, though Crimminger expected that number to rise as transfers trickle in. 

“The first day of school is always very exciting. This is the beginning of my 38th year and it’s just as exciting as the first go-around,” she said. “We spent all last week getting ready. Now, today is like Christmas day where you’re opening the gifts and here are the gifts.” 

She was also excited about this year’s theme, ‘I am.’

“Every week we’ll fill in what we are. So one week we could be ‘hard-working’ and we’ll discuss what that means. I bet at the end of the week, though, we’ll be saying ‘I am tired,’” she jokingly said. 

Walking to sixth-grade English Language Arts teacher Jean Neal’s classroom, Crimminger stopped to speak with one of Neal’s students, Josh Lilly, 11.

He said coming to school the previous Friday for orientation paid off.

“It helped us get ready to learn our locker combinations and they showed us around the school so we knew where everything was,” he said.

As he gets ready to hit the books, he’s already got his personal motto ready.

“Just to work harder and do your best,” Lilly said. 

On the other side of the school, Crimminger chatted with eighth-grader Cierra Burris, 13, who said she spent Sunday night making sure her book bag was fully packed. 

“I like school supplies, especially my folders and my books,” she said. 

Besides seeing her friends and teachers, Burris had another reason she was looking forward to the new school year. This will be her third year participating with the school’s track club . 

“In sixth grade I was really shy. It opens you up to find more friends and be in more situations,” she said. 


– Chris Sardelli