Andrews Middle School fifth-grade teacher Ryan Gaither (left) welcomes new student Ethne Tallant (middle) during open house Friday, as fellow teacher Alaina Ledford and fourth-grader Electa Tallant look on.

SCOUTING AROUND: Andrews welcomes Marble students

   Andrews Elementary School Principal Melissa Godfrey is ready for the new school year to begin. The first day will truly be a new beginning at the school, as it welcomes about 25 students who would have gone to Marble Elementary School.
   “I’m excited about the wonderful teachers and students that have joined us at AES,” Godfrey said. “It’s going to be a great year.”
   The Cherokee County Board of Education decided in June to close Marble Elementary due to declines in performance and growing costs to serve the small student population.
   The school had been operating with a makeshift library and no gym, with fifth-grade classes in a trailer. Marble’s district now falls in Andrews’, although seven Marble students will be going to Peachtree Elementary School and about 20 decided to go to Murphy Elementary School this year.
   “Children are super resilient, and I know with the proper support during the transition, they will do great,” Godfrey said. “However, we are not taking this transition lightly and understand the emotional impact of change. So we are doing our best to be proactive on the forefront, and will continue to do so until AES becomes home to them.”
   That transition started in July, when Godfrey did her best to contact every Marble family and invited them to visit Andrews Elementary. During the visits, she gave the students a tour of the school, answered their questions and concerns, and asked even them about their friends to make sure they would be in classes together. She is still trying to contact a few families she hasn’t been able to reach.
   In August, events were planned to bring students and teachers together so they could become more familiar with each other. The school hosted a rock-painting party and an ice cream social, and will have their annual open house from 4-6 p.m. Thursday.
   Godfrey has also coordinated with Marble’s former principal, Chanda Bias, who is the district’s director of N.C. Pre-Kindergarten.
   “Chanda has been gracious in providing information to ensure a smooth transition as well as helping us plan our transition events,” Godfrey said.
   “She will continue to be involved by checking in with families as school starts to see how we can continue to support these students and their families during the transition.”
   When they start school Monday, Marble students will find familiar faces everywhere.
   “The students from Marble will be present in all of our classes, but we have worked hard to ensure friend groups are maintained. This will help the new students make new friends, but also be comforted by having familiar faces nearby,” Godfrey said.
   “We have lots of Marble teachers and staff that have also transitioned to AES. Having these teachers on staff hopefully will help the students feel more comfortable as well.”
   Those teachers include Rebecca Mathis, Lana Parker, Karen Hogsed and Kristen Higdon, as well as teacher assistants Krystal Day, Angela Owenby and Emily Malin. Sherrie Hammond also joined the office staff. Superintendent Jeana Conley said all teachers from Marble Elementary stayed in the district, and most were placed in their school of choice.
   Godfrey knows what a special place Marble Elementary was since she, too, worked there for five years.
   “My promise to all of the Marble community is to do my best to replicate that experience at AES,” Godfrey said. “We take pride in knowing each student and their family, and are excited to have already started forming those bonds with our new students and their families as well.”
   Both Andrews and Marble families don’t have to worry about the schools being affected by class size. Godfrey said fifth-grade classes moving to Andrews Middle School allowed the total enrollment at the school to remain about the same as in past years, and adding an additional classroom at each level (except fourth grade) has kept the class size comparable to what Andrews and Marble students are used to. They’ve restructured some classrooms and made use of empty classrooms, but most Andrews teachers got to keep the same classrooms.
   Andrews Middle didn’t have any problems adding an entire grade – about 50 more students than last year – to its school.
   The school had several vacant classrooms in the west wing, and Principal Julie Higdon said teachers, custodians and the maintenance department worked hard over the summer to make these classrooms ready for students. These classrooms will be for fifth-graders, who will be isolated from older students in this wing.
   While students from both Andrews and Marble previously went to Andrews Middle starting in sixth grade, Higdon said efforts were made to make all fifth-graders feel comfortable in their new environment.
   “We are fortunate to have acquired Lisa Scott from Andrews Elementary and Ryan Gaither from Marble. Their familiarity of students and families have been key to planning a seamless transition for incoming students,” Higdon said.
   “The students at AMS are phenomenal, and we are happy to have new students add to our awesome-ness. We have several programs in place to help students feel as though they belong here and assimilate to AMS culture.”
   Both Godfrey and Higdon welcomed families to contact them if they had any questions or concerns. Godfrey can be reached at 321-4415 or melissa.godfrey@cherokee.k12.nc.us, while Higdon can be reached at 321-5762 or julie.higdon@cherokee.k12.nc.us. Both schools also are open for families to visit before school begins.
   The former Marble Elementary building is being repurposed as the new home for The Oaks Academy’s campus.

Schools plan open houses
   Several schools are welcoming families to visit Thursday, before the 2017-18 school year begins, to meet teachers and learn important information.
   * Andrews Elementary has its open house from 4-6 p.m.
   * Andrews Middle has its meet the teacher event from 5-6 p.m.
   * Andrews High School has its freshman move-up night at 6:30 p.m.
   * Hiwassee Dam Elementary/Middle has its open house at 6 p.m.
   * Hiwassee Dam High has its open house at 6 p.m.
   * Martins Creek has its open house at 6 p.m.
   * Murphy Elementary has its meet the teacher event from 5-7 p.m.
   * Ranger has its open house at 6 p.m.
   One other school in the district has a special event Friday. Peachtree Elementary welcomes students in pre-K and kindergarten to drop-in to meet teachers from noon-2 p.m.
   The school’s open house for all grade levels will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12.
   Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, scoutingaround@cherokeescout.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message in the office at 837-5122.