Back to school: New year begins for Marco Island students

Lance Shearer

Starting Tuesday, a flood of small pedestrians hit the streets on Marco Island. With the new school year, those driving motor vehicles need to exercise extra caution, slow down and look both ways one extra time, to help keep island students safe on their way to and from school.

Students at Tommie Barfield Elementary, and Marco’s charter middle and high schools returned to the classroom for the first day of school on Tuesday, along with students across the county. The 552 kids at TBE, about 400 at Marco Island Charter Middle School (MICMS), and about 230 at Marco Island Academy (MIA) high school, adding up to about 1,180 on the island joined 48,000 students at Collier County’s public schools.

“That’s our highest enrolment ever,” said MIA Principal Melissa Scott. If they are not attending one of the island’s charter schools, students living on Marco Island are zoned for Manatee Middle School and Lely High School.

One day “this generation will rule the population,” as John Mayer put it in song, but for right now they are figuring out long division, the three branches of government, and how to diagram a sentence. Before they could grapple with more advanced intellectual concepts, one of the first educational experiences of the new school year for students at MICMS was figuring out getting into their new locker, as well as where to go for their next class. Principal George Abounader acted as guide for students who needed a little help.

At TBE, the first day was the first day of school ever for the kindergarten students, including Lindsay Rojas, 5, who kept tight hold of her mother’s hand as she walked down the hall to her classroom. Some of the “big kids,” fifth graders including Astrid Santos, conspicuous in their Ambassador T-shirts, helped Principal Katie Maya greet the new crop of students and help them get oriented.

“This is a leadership opportunity for the kids who are Ambassadors,” said Maya. “They take ownership and take a lot of pride in their school.”

It was not just the kids who were new to their schools. Tommie Barfield has a new music teacher, Craig Greusel, taking over from longtime TBE music teacher Lisa Braren, who moved to Manatee Elementary. Well known to many on Marco Island, Greusel taught for 24 years at Lely High School. Tommie Barfield also has two new physical education teachers.

There were two new teachers at MICMS, with Tim Coyle teaching learning strategies to special needs ESE (exceptional student education) students, and Kathy Stefanides teaching eighth grade language arts. At MIA, history teacher Randy Montgomery and math teacher Anthony Howard were new to the faculty.

All three Marco Island schools are ranked as “A” schools once again, a tribute to the work of the educators and the motivation of the students. MIA is still “providing educational excellence in a trailer park,” as students have referred to their campus of prefab modular classrooms but is poised to break ground for real on what will be their $12 million-plus new campus, after holding the ceremonial groundbreaking in May.

At MICMS, students are offered high-school level classes in geometry, algebra, and Spanish I and II, with Spanish III scheduled to be added next year, said Abounader. The school has been designated a high-performing charter and a school of excellence by the Florida Department of Education.

Only students living over two miles from school are provided bus service, so on Marco “the majority are walkers or car riders” at TBE, said Maya. The first day of school brought out a host of parents, creating a traffic jam worthy of a larger city around TBE and MICMS. This will ease in a week, said MIPD Sgt. Mark Haueter, in charge of the department’s school officer program, as he made the rounds of all three schools Tuesday, but the need for careful driving will remain.