Prior to the new school year launching Wednesday, some students in Amherst County Public Schools received a special firsthand preview of their schools on Tuesday.

The division hosted its first Transition Day for kindergarten and pre-K students, sixth-graders and ninth-graders Tuesday, giving a half-day experience of what to expect. Hallways were much less crowded without all grade levels there and first-year students got the lay of the land as far as exploring their new settings in hopes of easing anxiety.

At Madison Heights Elementary School, staff gathered to shake pool noodles, bells, instruments and Pom Poms to welcome students stepping off their first bus ride.

“They were shaking for me,” said Micah Hilliard, a kindergarten student, of the greeting.

Assistant Principal Jeremy Hutchinson said the students toured the building, took part in team-building activities, met their art and music teachers and received a snack in the cafeteria.

“The students know when they come into this building that they are part of a community that cares about them,” Hutchinson said. “We’re building relationships.”

He said it is a good event for the parents and easing nervousness for families as students put their best forward forward into a new setting. “It’s just a day for them to figure out how school works,” Hutchinson said.

Principal Marvin McGinnis said the experience helps get those students off on the right foot in getting to know their school and educators. “We can only get better from here,” McGinnis said.

Amherst County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Arnold said the division is hopeful the first-year event is successful and will continue in future years.

“Transitions are extremely stressful for all people, especially children,” Arnold said. “The transition day allows students to start building relationships with their peer and teachers as well as acclimating to their new building. This happens on a day when the rest of the student population is home and this ultimately provides a more stress-free environment to ensure their transition is successful.”

Amherst County School Board member Amanda Wright said at last Thursday’s meeting she has heard much positive feedback about the new feature from residents.

The new school year includes 41 teachers in Amherst County schools, most of whom are new to the profession and starting their careers, Jim Gallagher, director of human resources, told the board last week.

This school year the board is expected a new long-term strategic plan to guide the division in future decisions. Arnold said the school system is nearing the end of the process of forming it and the board is expected next month to have a first reading of the document. Community events and school gatherings would also held this school year to make the plan available to the public, he said.

“We want it be impactful,” Arnold said of the plan. “We put a lot of work into it.”

Dana Norman, director of academics, said the schools are set to have more than 2,000 Chromebooks this year, the most the division has ever had. Close to 1,300 of those are new, she said, and the division is closer to meeting its “1 to 1” objective where every student from grades 3 to 12 have access to a Chromebook. The division has roughly 500 or so more needed to meet that goal, she said.

“That’s our plan for next year,” Norman said. “We’re getting closer.”

School board members last week praised staff for the work put into a new year and said they look forward to continued success and building on the school system’s momentum.

“I think it’s going to be a wonderful year,” board member Abby Thompson said.

Chairman Mike Henderson said he recently spoke at a luncheon for teachers of the division’s mission statement and cultivating excellence. He said he appreciates the behind-the-scenes work and praised the division for strides he’s seen in his more than five years on the board.

“It’s been a long journey to get the schools to where we are,” Henderson said.

Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

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Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

Contact Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551 or jfaulconer@newsadvance.com.

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