A day to remember: Mt. Ulla Elementary orchestrates big return

Published 3:36 pm Thursday, August 10, 2023

MT. ULLA — Mt. Ulla Elementary Principal Brenda Sokolowski wanted to make sure that returning students got more than just a warm welcome when they stepped foot on campus for the first time after summer vacation.

As cars pulled up at the school on Wednesday, exiting students were greeted by staff waving pom-poms, speakers blasting Taylor Swift and a balloon archway adorning the hall.

Other staff members wearing light-up sunglasses waved in the bus riders. Eventually, all the students joined together in the gymnasium for a back-to-school pep rally. It was electric.

“(Rowan-Salisbury Director of Schools) Dr. Kelly Withers inspired us to create memorable moments,” Sokolowski said.

The first day of school has always been a day they tried to make positive for students, but 2023 stood out as the teachers and staff went above and beyond to create an exciting arrival.

“Our kids are usually happy to be back, but I think this year we took it to another level,” Sokolowski said.

The staff developed the idea through inspiration from author Thomas Murray.

“We read a book that talked about a traditional first day versus making one memorable,” Sokolowski said. “We as a staff have strived to make this one that the kids will always remember and that they will want to come back tomorrow.”

So what makes a moment stand out?

“We talked about what makes memorable moments, and that ties into emotions,” Sokolowski said. “We wanted to tie into happy emotions. That is why (we have) the costumes, the music, the smiles and the cheers because we want kids to be happy. If they are happy and it’s special, and it’s different, they will remember it.”

As soon as everyone was settled in, students were summoned to the gymnasium for a pep rally.

“Our theme this year is better together, and so we are going to talk about what that means and what it means to be Bears (Mt. Ulla’s mascot),” Sokolowski said. “BEARS stands for being extraordinary, accountable, respectful and safe. Those are our school-wide expectations that we try to center everything around.”

Every grade had its own walk-up song, and students cheered as their levels were called out.

Sokolowski thought back to some of her first days in school and couldn’t recall much that stood out. The principal said she hopes that if a reporter asks her students 20-30 years from now something they remember from elementary school, they will be able to point to the first day of class after returning to school in 2023.