Each of the 80 schools in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County district welcomed students back with celebrations and cheers on Monday as more than 55,000 students started the 2018-19 school year.
At Ashley Academy for Global and Cultural Studies, community members formed a welcome “tunnel” outside the school’s entrance, cheering for the students as they arrived.
There were high fives, fist bumps and words of encouragement right as the students began their first day.
The Rev. Lamonte Williams, president of the Minister’s Conference and founder of the Triad Mentoring Coalition, said this was the coalition’s third year doing the tunnel.
“I think the more important message is that you are connected to the community,” Williams said. “Community has always been what causes a school to thrive.”
“A the end of the day, this event is … for our children and the message to them is that you’re not alone,” he added. “And then No. 2, that there are people in the community who are invested in your future, and so that’s really the message for us today is to say that listen, we’ve got people from all walks of life.”
Scarlet Linville, principal at Ashley, said they appreciated everyone who was able to come out and help give the students “a positive start to the school year.”
“I think what tickled me more was seeing the kids who knew what to do this time. The first year we had the tunnel they were just kind of thrown back,” she said. “But this year, you could tell they were looking forward to it and ready to give high fives.”
Ashley elementary has been an often-discussed school in the community for the past several months. Some community members and activists have fought for a new school building after an environmental report in April found evidence of mold growth in the building, which caused health concerns for some students and teachers.
The district and Board of Education responded with funding for maintenance work, which included the replacement of several HVAC units. The Action4Ashley Coalition responded by calling it a temporary fix to a larger problem.
Earlier this month, they filed a federal civil-rights complaint against the district and school board, alleging racial discrimination toward the students of Ashley.
The coalition issued a statement Monday, reiterating their support for the students and community at Ashley.
“New HVAC systems are not enough and a new school needs to be built,” the statement reads. “We are encouraging parents to consider alternative options for where their kids attend school this year due to these circumstances. Our kids at Ashley Academy need to be greeted and continuously treated with the same passionate care and concern as other children in our school system.”
Parents and community members had a chance to tour the school last week at an open house to see the changes made over the summer.
“They loved the renovations, they could tell the difference,” Linville said. “They said it was brighter and crisper, so we’re off to a good start.”
Monday was also the first school day at Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork, or the Academy, which was formerly a WS/FCS elementary school.
Middle Fork is one of nine laboratory schools across the state, each of which will be run by an education college in the UNC system. The colleges will control the curriculum and management of the schools, all of which were selected for the program because of low performance in recent years.
The Academy had approximately 300 students enrolled on the first day of school, Principal Tasha Hall-Powell said. They’re hoping to increase that number to 315.
“Well, we’ve had a great opening,” she said. “Everybody’s excited, happy. Kids came in ready and our teachers were very prepared, so it was a great first day.”
Amie Snow, director of curriculum at the Academy, said they are fully staffed on the first day of school.
“I’m really excited for everything that we’re going to be able to do here,” she said. “I think the teachers are ready to start to get into the curriculum.”
Appalachian State Chancellor Sheri Everts will visit the Academy on Thursday, and will hand out books and read to the students.
On the first day of school, there were 45 teacher vacancies school district-wide, one of the lowest figures in recent years, said Brent Campbell, spokesman for WS/FCS.
Campbell added that there were some expected delays and challenges on the first day in regard to transportation. Bus ridership does tend to increase after the first few days of school as some parents opt to drive their kids at the start of the year, Campbell said.
He added there were some delays in the afternoon with students making sure they had the right bus assignment, but overall it was a smooth first day back.
WS/FCS Superintendent Beverly Emory said that while there were some hurdles and unexpected challenges on the first day, she felt that overall it had “exceeded expectations.”
“The efforts of our schools and community partners to extend a tremendously positive ‘welcome’ to our students today were remarkable,” she said in a statement.
“I sincerely thank all of our community partners who gave their time to join our schools in supporting and welcoming students back to school in such an energetic way.”