Marco schools welcome students back for new year

MICMS Dean Mark Albanese helps with class assignments.

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MICMS Dean Mark Albanese helps with class assignments.

— Area schools welcome students back for a new year

Monday marked the first day of the new school year at Marco Island’s public schools, as it did all across Collier County. Chaos, for the most part controlled chaos, reigned in and around the schools as students and parents tried to navigate unfamiliar halls, and figure out where they were supposed to be first thing in the morning.

At Marco Island Charter Middle School, the answer was the gym. All 456 students started their day in the gymnasium, where they were matched up with homeroom teachers, and marched off class by class. Before they got there, they had to navigate a traffic jam, impressive by local standards, with teachers and administrators playing traffic cop. Principal George Abounader used body language to keep the drivers pulling forward, rather than stopping to let off their charges and backing up everyone else.

Sixth grader Emma Bailey hit the ground running, carrying two projects she completed as a summer vacation assignment, complete with posters, book reports and a time capsule. The sixth graders tended to be a little shy in their new surroundings, while the eighth graders were right at home, relishing in their status as upperclassmen.

At Tommie Barfield Elementary, the farewells between new scholars and doting parents were a little more tender and prolonged, and more than a few tears were shed and not all by the kids. The media center, what used to be called the school library, was used to host an impromptu “support group” for moms and dads struggling with cutting the cord.

A few of the younger kids sat in class, leaking tears quietly or otherwise and getting it out of their system, but most embraced the new adventure. In Dody Bennett’s kindergarten class, the children had work in front of them, a drawing to color in, and one girl named Sarah got right to work, asking if she could cut out the little girl in the picture after she finished with her crayons. A young man demonstrated precocious social skills, chatting up the girl at the next desk.

“My name is Zurich. I’m five. What’s your name?” he asked, as good an opening line as any. Dylan McCann, another five-year-old, got a hug from dad, a kiss from mom and a promise to see him at the end of the school day.

Principal Dr. Jory Westberry roamed the halls, walkie-talkie on belt, greeting new and returning students in the 612-member student body. With security considerations paramount, the school handed out a message to parents outlining some new guidelines and regulations. To give staff the chance to get things organized, parents were asked to wait until Sept. 6 to come and join their kids for lunch, and limit those visits to Fridays only. Students went out front by grade levels to hear a talk on “positive behavior support, expectations and procedures,” through which they can become “respectful, responsible role models.”

Marco Island Academy, the island’s public charter high school, saw a big jump in its enrolment, from 102 last year to more than 170 this year. The new faces included those of teachers, with two new math instructors, said MIA founder and chairperson Jane Watt.

“It’s pretty exciting, with all the new people,” she said. “Our first year was survival, our second year, we went for stability, and this year, it’s success. This will be our breakout year.” Like MICMS, which draws approximately 40 percent of its students from off the island, MIA has students from all over the county, although 75 percent are Marco residents, Watt said.

Westberry spoke for her fellow educators when she looked around the school, with a bustling throng, even if it was a little confusing the first day.

“I love it when the halls fill with kids again,” she said.

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