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First day of school: Rowan-Salisbury students greet the treasure of learning

SALISBURY — Shiny backpacks. Combed hair. New kicks. High-fives for old friends, teachers and bus drivers.

These are the things you see on the first day of school.

And pirates.

Wearing a pirate’s hat, Principal Candice Austin greeted Overton Elementary School students and parents Wednesday morning for a new school year, whose theme will be pirates — or, more precisely, the exploration of learning.

Overton teachers and staff also wore eye patches and bandanas as students made their way to classrooms. Wednesday marked the start of the 2019-20 school year for elementary, middle and high schools across the Rowan-Salisbury Schools system.

Students and parents hiking up the main sidewalk at Overton on Wednesday morning immediately noticed a hint of the pirate and exploration themes from the chalk messages scrawled on the concrete.

“Treasure awaits you — come find yours,” one sidewalk message said.

“This way to adventure.”

“Welcome, explorers.”

It all fits in with the book study — “Teach Like a Pirate” by David Burgess — that Overton teachers selected for this year. The book’s aim — and Overton teachers’ — is to increase student engagement, boost their creativity and transform their lives.

“The positive energy around that has made me very proud,” Austin said of the attitude shown by the teachers.

The school’s hashtag this year will be #explorelikeapirate, and it blends in nicely with the school mascot, which is an explorer.

Rowan-Salisbury schools are starting back a bit earlier this year, thanks to changes brought on by the renewal initiative, which allows the district charter-like flexibility in funding, staff, curriculum and scheduling.

“We really didn’t hear anything negative from parents about the early start,” Austin said.

As for teachers and staff members, everything this summer seemed to go a lot faster, and the preparation time for a new school year was more compressed, Austin noted.

Krista Hill walked into Overton with her two oldest children, Grant and Gwen. Hill wore a camera around her neck, and as she has done with every first day of school, she documented things at home and at school.

“We’ve been looking forward to it,” said Grant, a fifth-grader.

Gwen, a third-grader, greeted her new teacher at the door.

Third-grader Lily Cox and her mother, Amanda, read the chalk messages as they walked toward the main entrance. “She’s been very excited — she couldn’t sleep,” Amanda said of Lily.

Spring Roseman, Overton’s STEM coordinator, followed the lead of Austin and others and wore a pirate’s hat Wednesday. Will she wear it all year?

“I might choose to, who knows?” Roseman said.

At Hurley Elementary School, Ebony Connor brought her 5-year-old son, Ezekiel Martin, for his first day of kindergarten. Her other son, Malachi Martin, a second-grader, rode the bus with his cousin, Ja’Kiya Wiley.

Ezekiel will be riding the bus with them most every other day. But his mother wanted to help with this first day, which can be a little overwhelming for kindergarten students.

His backpack already was filled with paper, pencils, crayons, scissors and other supplies.

Greeting Ezekiel with a warm welcome before he even entered the front door was Janelya Lewis Baker, a school counselor who likes to spend the first half-hour of every day checking up on students.

“We’re really excited about this school year,” Baker said, adding teachers and staff adjusted to the shorter summer. “We just worked harder to get everything done.”

Baker said she loved seeing the faces and the anticipation of a new year. She has two children who attend Hurley and loves her job and being able to work in their school.

“I can’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing,” she said.

Hurley Elementary Principal Ryan Disseler said building relationships with students is the school’s No. 1 goal.

“You can’t teach if you don’t have the relationships down,” Disseler said.

Music greets the students every day. Teachers and staff fill the halls and classroom doors to welcome students, many of whom stop by the cafeteria first to pick up breakfast.

The first day of school is always exciting, no matter how many you’ve seen.

“It’s just a new beginning and everything feels together,” Disseler said.

Dominic Gillion, part of the student support staff, greeted the Hurley drivers and students as they exited the buses.

“Are you back for another good year?” Gillion asked many of the students. “High-five! I like that haircut.”

Even bus drivers have their first-day-of-school jitters. Though she is an experienced bus driver, Renee Duncan was on a Hurley Elementary route for the the first time.

“It went great,” Duncan said.

Jameir Downs entered Hurley as a fifth-grader. “It’s going to be a good day,” he said.

But Jameir shook his head “no” when asked whether he had grown tired of the summer break.

“I like to see my kids learn new things,” said his mom, Alicia Downs. “But I love when they’re home, too.”

Arrr, summer. We knew ye well.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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