August 18, 2014

New Fort Mill schools hold first day of classes - ever

Monday marked the first day of school for thousands of kids across the region as summer ended and schools opened their doors to kick off the 2014-2015 year.

It was smooth sailing at Doby’s Bridge Elementary, one of two new Fort Mill elementary schools. Thousands of local children went back to school on Monday.

Just before 7 a.m. Monday at Doby’s Bridge Elementary School in Fort Mill, everything was quiet. A few staff members milled about the halls and teachers made their way inside, carrying last-minute additions to classrooms.

Soon, buses pulled up at the back, unloading students. The drop-off line at the front of the building turned into a parade of parents and students, backpacks full of new supplies. Children stopped to have their pictures taken as they walked in the building.

It wasn’t quiet anymore.

It was a typical first day of school, except for the part where everything was brand new. Both Doby’s Bridge and Tega Cay elementary schools were finished just a few weeks ago, the latest new schools in the expanding Fort Mill district.

“It’s always exciting to open a new building,” said Fort Mill schools Superintendent Chuck Epps, who spent the morning greeting the new “dragons” as they entered Doby’s Bridge. A dragon is the school’s mascot.

Parent Adrian Hodges said her children were extra excited for the school year because of the new building at Doby’s Bridge.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “My son was most excited for the full-length basketball court.”

Fifth-grader Briley Williamson will get to be on the second floor of the new building, something she considers “awesome.”

Briley said she had trouble sleeping Sunday night because of the anticipation.

“I want to do more art and learn more stuff,” she said.

Even though Briley and her fellow fifth-graders are no strangers to the first day of school, teachers Emily Heitkamp and Mimi Greene said much of the first day would be spent getting them acclimated to the new space.

The focus was going to be on rules and procedures, “ice breaker” activities and getting the jitters out, they said.

“We’re setting the example for the younger kids,” Greene said of her students.

For the youngest students at Doby’s Bridge, Monday morning wasn’t just their first day in a new school; it was their first day of school ever. In Blair Wright’s classroom, kindergarten students started the day with coloring before moving on to some silly songs.

There were a few tears from students, but more from parents, and the children quickly began adjusting to their new routine.

“I was sleepy but my mom and dad waked me up,” said Clare DeRose, who said she liked her new classroom.

In the seat next to her, Brody Bowman asked his classmates if they were excited to see the playground.

“It has a ball thing and a tunnel,” he told them.

Doby’s Bridge Principal Scott Fratarolli is on his second round of new school openings. He helped with the development and opening of Sugar Creek and Pleasant Knoll elementary schools in August 2009 and then worked as principal at Sugar Creek until he began assisting on Doby’s Bridge and Tega Cay.

One of the great things about being in a new school with a growing enrollment is that there’s no such thing as being the “new kid,” Fratarolli said.

“No one ever feels like a new kid because everyone has someone to relate to,” he said.

The staff at Doby’s Bridge was expecting about 475 students. When projections were made during the 2013-2014 school year, only 400 students were expected. The school has a capacity of 1,000 students.

Between the end of the last school year and the first day on Monday, Fort Mill grew between 600 and 800 students, Epps said. The district, which is the smallest geographically in the state, will have around 12,500 students this year, not including those who will likely move to the area later in the year.

The first few weeks of school will be a lot about developing a community atmosphere and making sure there’s consistency with procedures, Fratarolli said.

“And we’ll focus on what we’re all about here: engagement, enrichment and excellence,” he said.

Elsewhere, Lancaster and Chester County schools also opened Monday, as did York County’s two charter schools, York Preparatory Academy and the new Riverwalk Academy.

York, Clover and Rock Hill schools will open Wednesday.

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