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Hall County schools wrap up first day back
Samantha Borth, 13, gives Nancy Smith, an eighth-grade social studies teacher, a hug last Wednesday during an open house at the new Davis Middle School. Borth was happy to find that Smith, her former sixth-grade teacher, will be teaching her again this school year. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

On the first day of school in 1987, when Nancy Smith first started teaching, students were wearing leggings, mohawks and other haircuts inspired by their favorite musical act.

Some of those trends may have returned 22 years later, but the first day of school looks a lot different.

"There were a lot fewer students back then," said Smith, who is an eighth-grade social studies teacher at C.W. Davis
Middle School.

"I started out teaching eighth grade. That was before the middle school concept, so it was a junior high school. When I first started, we had to create our own curriculum. It was quite challenging, but fun."

Monday was the first day for students in the Hall County school system. According to administrators, 24,548 students reported to school for their first day of classes, an increase of more than 300 students over last year’s first-day count. William Schofield, system superintendent, expects that final enrollment numbers will be closer to the projected 25,094 by next week as parents are continuing to enroll their students.

Smith said a lot of preparation went into getting ready for the day on an administrative, teacher and custodial level before those 25,000 students even reported for class.

"If we’re lucky, we get the same classroom, but that doesn’t always happen," said Smith. "Regardless, we have to pack up our classrooms and take everything home over the summer."

For Flowery Branch High, Davis Middle and South Hall Middle schools, all students were walking into their schools for the first time.

Over the summer, the high school was shifted to a new facility, Davis Middle was relocated to the old high school building and South Hall middle was relocated to the old Davis Middle site. The moves were necessary to accommodate growth in the area and to also give the school system an opportunity to renovate the old South Hall Middle School facility.

"I started teaching at South Hall Middle School and at that time it was in an old high school building, so having a middle school in a high school isn’t new to me," said Smith.

"All but two of my students showed up for open house last week, so the majority of the students have been around the building at least once before the first day of school. Kids adjust a lot faster, so it won’t take them long to figure everything out. For the sixth-graders, it will be a pretty traumatic thing for them. It’s a big, big adjustment, but they’ll get used to it too."

Moving to the new facility brought a few welcome surprises for Smith. She taught classes in a trailer at the old Davis Middle; now her classroom is actually a part of the central school building.

Her current room is actually half of a classroom. A dividing wall was put into place to separate Smith’s room from the adjoining classroom space before students showed up. Despite the division, Smith is able to comfortably fit 30 student desks arranged in groups of four, a computer work station and two tables in a back corner for independent work. There’s even room left over for both Smith and her para-professional, Helena Galvin-Magee, to have their own separate desks.

"We had more than 20 trailers at the old site. It simply wasn’t built to accommodate this many students," said Smith. "But here, we have plenty of room."

With the exception of a few students who wandered into her room by accident, Smith said the first day of school went better than expected. Whereas in previous years, students might have gotten a free pass on the first day of school, these days actual class time starts on day one.

"Once (the teachers) explain their procedures and expectations, we start academics on the first day with most of our classes," said Smith. "The exception is with sixth grade. Those students won’t change classes, except to go to their connections class. The sixth-grade teachers take their students on a tour of the school and make sure they understand everything and how things work."

After more than 20 years on the job, Smith says she has enjoyed each first day of school and this year has been no exception.

"Every year it’s like having a new job," said Smith. "Just when you start to get bored, the school year ends and a new one begins and the fun starts all over again."