Back to the books: New, more secure, school year begins for Marco Island students

New, more secure, school year begins for Marco Island students

Lance Shearer

Wednesday was the de facto New Year’s Day for over 1,000 students on Marco Island. As the new school year began, this was the day they went from a third grader to a fourth grader, or from a middle schooler to a high school student, the day they consider themselves one year closer to being grown up.

In the wake of the Parkland and other school shootings, security concerns were paramount at island schools, with a major Marco Island Police Department presence visible at Tommie Barfield Elementary, Marco Island Charter Middle School and Marco Island Academy and the new video doorbells that are a feature of all Collier County School District campuses, which includes Tommie Barfield but not the two charter schools.

Even at TBE, the beginning of the school year didn’t allow for using the video security system. Instead, MIPD officers including Sgt. Mark Haueter, who oversees the department’s school resource program, and Emilio “Rod” Rodriguez, functioned as over-qualified – and well-armed – doormen, while another officer hovered nearby in a patrol car.

Kids arrive via school bus at Tommie Barfield Elementary. Marco Island students, along with all of Collier County, returned to school for the first day of classes in the new school year on Wednesday.

Parents streamed into the halls, escorting their kids, a few of them uncertain about the journey but most seemingly excited to be there. Children greeted friends they hadn’t seen over the summer or took photos with family members by the sign in front of the school.

Some older children, such as fourth grader Edwin Perez, were responsible for their younger siblings. Edwin kept a tight grip on the hand of his sister Lorita, just starting kindergarten, as they made their way into the school.

The school will welcome approximately 550 students, said Principal Kathryn Maya, in between directing traffic and getting hugs from returning kids. Fifth grade teacher Marilyn Morales stood by her classroom door, greeting each child as they arrived.

“It’s going to be an awesome year,” she said.

More:School security: Collier schools add ‘video doorbells’ and other measures

At MICMS, last year’s “king of the hill” fifth graders were now the underclass new kids, while the older students helped show the newcomers the ropes. This was also the task of all the adult staffers, with everyone from school secretary Rona Donato and Principal George Abounader to eighth grade science teacher Carrie Doxsee working to get everyone sorted out and in their proper classroom.

Doxsee worked to help a student with his locker – “a new adventure” for middle school students, said Abounader – but had to defer to the office when neither one of them could get the lock open. MICMS is starting the school year with about 380 students, said Abounader. Physical education teacher Cheryl Toth, in her 21st year at the school and the “last survivor” of the original group of teachers from the school’s first year, handed out agendas and safety packages to groups of students in the gym.

Marco Island students, along with all of Collier County, returned to school for the first day of classes in the new school year on Wednesday.

Marco Island Academy, the island’s charter high school, starts the year with about 230 students total, and “our biggest freshman class ever,” said Principal Melissa Scott. They have a waiting list for admission to their freshman class, she said.

“I know the transition from the summer back to school is hard. We want them to know there’s no limit to what they can do. As adults, we put limits on ourselves, and we forget we don’t need to.”

There’s no limit to what they can do, but as students, there are some things they have too, and English teacher Michael Butler devoted time with his sophomore classes to letting the kids know what they would be covering, and what to expect.

Don’t worry, he said – “by the first or second quiz, you’ll get it. It will make you feel smarter.”

Nature wasn’t quite finished with MIA. After having a major hurricane make landfall over the school last year, they were struck by lightning Tuesday evening, one week before the morning of classes starting. Their internet was knocked out, but all the damage was repaired before the students arrived.

All three of Marco Island’s schools carry an “A” grade in the Florida state rankings.