Back to School with Newberry Elementary School – A SWIFT Center Knowledge Development Site

I am the Principal of Newberry Elementary School (NES), a PK-4 school of 510 students, in rural Alachua County Florida. NES serves its Kindergarten-Fourth Grade students with disabilities in an inclusive Co-Teach Model. Teachers with special education training work alongside classroom teachers to help meet the needs of all students, including those with disabilities and those who are English language learners. Teachers work together to design individualized programs for both academics and behavior support and are supported by a diverse staff, including the speech language, occupational, and physical therapists. These related service providers meet regularly with the co-teachers to determine how their therapies can best help students be successful in the regular education classroom.

Many years ago I attended a training done by Steve Barkley, where he talked about celebration being an important part of a school culture. He spoke about the first day of school and how it sets the tone for the rest of the year. I thought about most first days of school, full of rules, procedures, assigning seats, giving out books, etc…. all important parts of a school. But do kids really love it? Do they leave the first day with joyful anticipation of returning the next day? Doubtful. When I became Principal at Newberry Elementary, I put Steve’s advice to work. I wanted the first day to be memorable, full of fun, and to make ALL of our students say “Wow, I can’t wait to go back”. I want this feeling to be experienced by all kids that come in our door. Every one of our students is included in the celebration! Paraprofessionals and teachers make sure our students with even the most significant disabilities take part to the fullest extent possible in the first day of school activities.

The notion of “celebration” began years of planning wonderful first days, around a theme that spread throughout the school year. It has become a tradition that each year kids, parents, and teachers look forward to. I even have kids that are in high school that see me over the summer say, “Mrs. Redd what’s the theme this new year?” Early in the spring, we pick the theme for the next year because teachers spend months planning their classroom decorations and hunting for the perfect items for their classrooms. My district volunteer office spends the summer helping to plan first day guests, speakers, and exhibits around the theme. When we select the activities we make sure to consider how every child will participate. The local newspapers and radio stations all promote the theme and one radio show interviews me each first day to hear about what’s happening at our school. We have had eleven themes, and I would like to share pictures and information on three examples.

Farm Theme “Welcome to our Blue Ribbon School. We are always in the moooood for Learning”. The whole school decorates around the theme including classrooms, hallways, and cafeteria. The administrative staff dresses up as well as teachers. The kids enjoyed petting cows, and even tried their hand at a milking station. They learned about farming in the old days and farming now. They saw antique tractors as well as new high tech modern tractors. They met tiny miniature therapy horses.

Hollywood Theme “Newberry Elementary – Where Every Student Can Be a Star”. Families were greeted with a red carpet down the hallway, stars with staff names lining the carpet, paparazzi taking pictures, super stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, and Audrey Hepburn greeted them. Later in the day, they sat in a limousine and were visited by Albert and Alberta local university mascots and the dazzlers performed. My art teacher decorated the hallways with posters of our kids dressed up as old Hollywood stars.

Travel Theme “Oh The Places We Will Go, Learning Can Take Us Anywhere”. Students were greeted by Pilot Principal Lacy Redd and the NES Flight Crew. They embarked on a wonderful first day that included a hallway decorated like an airplane with sound effects. They traveled the world and saw African drummers and dancers, insects from around the world, and experienced what space travel would be like. The local police department landed their helicopter on the playground and students even had Tae Kwon Do lessons.

– Lacy Redd

Photo of blog author.I have served as Principal at Newberry Elementary School for the past 12 years. Love my job every day! I believe that every child can grow and learn given the right supports!