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Four students followed Winstead Elementary School Principal Claudia Spencer’s lead as she placed her right hand over her heart to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
After the patriotic expression and a moment of silence were broadcast to every classroom for every student and every teacher, Spencer got down to business.
“It is the first day of school,” Spencer said Monday as she detailed her expectations for the students who should cooperate, achieve, take responsibility and show respect.
Winstead is one of 24 Wilson County public schools to hold the first day for students Monday.
“As always, Wildcats, remember to work hard and work smart and I will see you around in the classrooms,” Spencer said. “Have a great day.”
The first day of school is always busy, said Spencer, who is the new principal at Winstead. The school is in its 101st year and Spencer has worked for Wilson County Schools for 23 years.
“Everybody wants to have a successful start to the school year and parents want to make sure that their children and are in the right place and that they have everything they need,” Spencer said. “It is the first day and you just want to make sure that everything runs as smooth as possible.”
Tanekqua Ward, a new first-grade teacher, said she was a little nervous because she wanted everything to go well on the first day.
“As long as I get into that positive energy, I think we will have a great, awesome first day of school,” said Ward, a Wilson native.
“This first week it’s all about those routines and procedures, making sure that we have a welcoming environment,” Ward said. “I like to let everyone know that we are big family and we are all here to learn together.”
Parents Carrie Toney and Larry Rice dropped their daughter Anissa off in Ward’s class.
“I don’t want them to leave me, but I have to let them go,” Toney said. “It’s exciting because they get to learn and be independent.”
Dropping children off at school in kindergarten or for first grade can be an emotional and even tearful experience for young parents.
“I’m holding it in. I’m holding it in,” Rice said after hugging Anissa and saying goodbye. “It’s kind of hard but once you did it the first time, it gets a little easier. The very first time, that’s when it hurt. But they’ve got to go.”
Kindergärtner Olivia Evans clung to her mother’s arm after getting a goodbye kiss.
“She’s nervous, but she’ll be all right,” said Heather Evans, Olivia’s mother. “Just knowing that they are going to be by themselves for the first time in the big world and you are not there to be able to take them every step of the way.”
“They are going to be making their own decisions,” Evans said. “You can’t protect them like you want to. That’s probably the hardest thing for me.”
Still, Evans said she is confident that Olivia is safe.
“We live right around the corner. We like Winstead. Our older cousins go to Winstead, so she will see some familiar faces.”
Safety at school, Spencer said, is the top priority.
“The first thing that you always look for is safety,” Spencer said. “You do everything that you can to ensure the safety of students and staff. That is the main reason why we have all of the procedures and stuff that are put in place.”
Both the Wilson Police Department and the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office had officers at the school Monday.
“It’s one of those things where you are having to assure them everything is going to be OK and that you are going to take care of their child,” Spencer said. “Every one of these children in this building is my responsibility and I consider them all my children.”
Sometimes the younger children who are arriving at school for the first time are apprehensive on their first day because it may be their first time being away from home, but they adjust.
“The children are fine,” Spencer said. “They adapt. They make friends. It’s good.”
Tia Marcell, a music teacher with 14 years of experience, said the key is keeping younger students motivated and busy and getting them into what the teacher is doing.
“Getting them used to moving, getting them comfortable and keeping them excited, that is a big deal,” Marcell said.
Progress can be easy to see when the students are eager to be in school.
“That makes it easy to deal with from the time that they get out of the car or off the bus until the time they leave,” Marcell said.
When Shelley Blackston arrived with her daughter Kelsey, a second-grader, Blackston recognized Spencer as one of the teachers she had at Winstead years earlier.
“I was very shocked, but it’s a good thing,” Blackston said. “She has been a great teacher all of these years, so I know she will be an excellent principal.”
Spencer had been at Winstead as a teacher for 10 years, handling students in the first, third, fourth and fifth grades.
“I have been very fortunate since I have been back at Winstead to run across several of my former students who are now parents,” Spencer said. “It makes me feel proud.”
Blackston had one bit of advice for the students on their new year: “Just do their best, pay attention and try to do the hardest they can and shoot for the stars.”