The 28 children marched into the Riverview Elementary cafeteria Friday, the surprise leaping off their faces as they all saw parents and grandparents clapping and cheering.
Cheering for them.
Riverview is the school that statistics and numbers show is filled with the highest percentage of poor students in the Fort Mill school district.
The ceremony Friday recognized 28 of the school’s students as part of a Kiwanis Club program called “Terrific Kids.” Each class recognizes a terrific kid.
The school called it a celebration, because it was.
Consultants and school officials involved in ongoing discussions about rezoning some Fort Mill elementary students don’t call students from lower-income families “poor.” They’re “free and reduced lunch” students, which means their families’ incomes are low enough to qualify for government school lunch subsidies.
That means their parents work – hard – on their feet all day or night to raise families. Many are the working class of Fort Mill, dreaming of their kids’ success.
Parents of the “free and reduced” lunch kids are white and black and brown. The parents of kids who are not free and reduced lunch are white and black and brown.
It’s unknown how many of the 28 students Friday were “free and reduced.” The smiles were not free or reduced. The cheers were not free and reduced. The joy of parents in work clothes and suits and office clothes was not free and reduced.
“Our students and parents are the greatest anywhere,” Annette Chinchilla, the principal, told the proud parents, who already knew it and were clapping and cheering for their own kids – and every other kid in the room.
But this school concerns some parents in neighboring communities. Some claim that there may not be enough parental support or interaction at Riverview because the parents don’t have the free time or job flexibility to be at the school for field trips and other stuff.
Of 28 students honored Friday, 28 had cheering families.
100 percent participation.
The parents were white and black and brown. They were working class, and some were above working class. All sat together and clapped together because all showed up together.
With 44 percent of its students qualifying for free and reduced lunches, and potentially 51 percent next year, some parents whose students may be rezoned to Riverview worry. They fear, apparently, that Riverview might not be as good as some other schools.
Not a single parent of a terrific kid at Riverview had those worries Friday.
Tom and Lori Metz, parents at Riverview, had two kids recognized as terrific Friday: Bryce and Marlee.
The Metz family are not “free and reduced lunch”, or any other name that somebody might give them, except “thrilled.”
“We are actually very relieved that we would not be reassigned,” said Tom Metz.
The Metz family was so worried about leaving this school that they would consider moving to stay at Riverview.
Lori Metz called the teachers and administration “great.”
Another word for that is “terrific.”
Those parents in some other places want a “neighborhood school.” Riverview’s “neighborhood” is almost the whole town of Fort Mill proper plus some other areas, miles away from the school. Many of the kids largely do not come from where the homes are huge. Riverview’s attendance area includes communities where many of the black children in Fort Mill live.
In Fort Mill, like all of America, a higher percentage of black and brown children are poorer than white children.
At least the rezoning debate this year is not as bad as the last Fort Mill elementary rezoning, in 2008, when some parents sent out hundreds of letters claiming that too many free and reduced lunch kids, and minorities, at any elementary school would drive down property values and cause test scores and achievement to plummet.
On Friday, for the parents of 28 terrific kids, the economic and racial diversity of Riverview is just fine.
“What I know about it is the school is great and my son is great,” said Jay Cunningham, the black father of Jalen. “All these kids are great. There isn’t any difference in any of them.”
Of the 28 terrific kids Friday, 12 were black or brown.
The parents of all 28 beamed with pride and joy.
The smiles of all 28 kids lit up the cafeteria with the tiny stage at one end.
Each name came up on a big screen, with a teacher recommendation of why each kid was terrific.
Not one screen said whether the kid was free and reduced lunch or not, black or white or brown. The screen had words such as “great” and “kind” and “respectful.” “Excel” and “leader” and “striving to do his best” came up several times.
When a tiny kindergartener named Nazaira Kirk received her award, her mother and grandmother cried. They both extolled Riverview school.
“This school is just what they said, terrific,” said Danielle Hudson, the mother.
Larry Huntley, a Fort Mill Town Councilman by election, but a grandfather by love, was there for his grandson, Quinton.
“Any family would be lucky to have a child at Riverview,” Huntley said.
Across that stage walked these children: Kylee Crank, Parker Glenn, Nazaira Kirk, Reese Wilson, Jalen Cunningham, Raiden Bronson, Aaliyah Johnson, Ezere Bowie, Elijah Truesdale, Marlee Metz, Daisy Watts, Kaleb Truesdale, Matthew Pearson, Jazmine Williams, Keiandre Jackson, Lily Gorum, Samad Williams, Ronan Wells, Evalyn Larsen, John Cunningham, Blake Exizian, Bryce Metz, Olivia Miles, Ja’Mia Staton, Carson McClimen, Brandon Worthy, Quinton Huntley, and Maria Price.
After the ceremony a mother named April Cunningham, who has three children at the school including one recognized Friday, called Riverview “great and challenging.”
She paused and said: “I think the word to describe these kids today, and this school, is terrific.”
Andrew Dys * 803-329-4065 * firstname.lastname@example.org