Across Beaufort County, students, their parents and teachers began a new routine Aug. 17 that will last until the end of May 2016. There were teary farewells as many parents watched their children head to the first day of school.
The youngsters might have been crying, too.
Students were not the only ones facing first-day adventures.
Principal Gary McCulloch opened the doors to the brand new River Ridge Academy near the intersection of the Bluffton Parkway and S.C. 170.
The former head of Beaufort Elementary School will lead more than 780 pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students, according to the Beaufort County School District’s 2014-2015 projections.
The River Ridge Raiders uniforms will reflect the school colors of purple, black and silver.
Of the new school’s design, McCulloch noted in a BCSD interview that one of the best aspects is the separation of middle school students from their younger elementary school companions.
“It’s important for middle school students to have a distinct sense of identity in a pre-kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school. They will love their own hallway with lockers,” he said.
The school contains extra-large math and science classrooms to give students flexible and safe lab spaces. The media center also balances the two school levels by providing café tables for middle school students and circle-type spaces for elementary students.
McCulloch also has high praise for the gymnasium.
“Our gymnasium is top-notch and I’m really looking forward to the memories that we’ll create there,” he said.
No stranger to hard physical effort, McCulloch was a professional soccer player with the Delaware Wizards until he was injured. “I understand the kind of commitment, discipline and drive it takes to accomplish your goals,” he said.
Many adults are involved in helping students reach those goals.
“The most important person in a student’s life would be a competent, caring adult. That can come in many different forms,” said county schools superintendent Jeffery Moss. “It can be a parent, guardian, mentor, relative. Anyone in that community that has the best interest of that student in mind who can guide the student through life’s challenges and help with their growing up in our communities.”
Some of the youngest scholars at Red Cedar Elementary School will begin their education with second-year teacher Meghan Smith. The Roanoke College graduate is excited to continue her teaching career in the combined kindergarten and first grade classroom.
“I love the area and I wanted the opportunity to teach in a diverse setting,” she said a week ago as she put the final touches on her classroom library.
More than 21,000 students will fill Beaufort County’s schools, as per the projections. That means dozens of school buses, pedestrians and cars filling the roads Monday through Friday.
School zones are marked with blinking lights advising drivers to reduce speed during certain hours.
“My expectations for this year are that all of our students have a very safe and very pleasant school year,” said Moss, “that they are completely engaged in the learning process, and that all grow academically more than one year’s worth of growth for the time they spend with us.”
River Ridge provides both Montessori and the district’s Project Lead the Way school choice programs, the STEM program that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math.
At Red Cedar Elementary School, students learn through project-based exercises. Students solve real-world problems with knowledge they build upon.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.