Clay County schools ready for first day

Teachers, students, parents attend orientation Monday

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – It's hard for some to believe, but summer is over for thousands of Clay County students who will begin a new school year Tuesday.

The first day of school is an exciting time that also brings some tears and anxiety.

To help teachers, parents and students ease into the school year, many Clay County schools held orientations Monday.

Since the final school bell rang in June at Charles E. Bennett Elementary School, those associated with the school learned their hard work paid off. The school earned its first A grade in years.

With that in mind, Monday's orientation was a time to celebrate that and the new school year.

"I thought, 'Why is (Superintendent) Mr. (Ben) Wortham calling me?' He said, 'Well, you wanted to work your way up the alphabet, and I'm proud to let you know that Charles E. Bennett Elementary is an A school.' And really, my breath was just taken away," Principal Evelyn Chastain said.

She recalled her phone call from the superintendent in July and was brought to tears Monday over her school's latest accomplishment.

"I'm feeling right now how I felt then," Chastain said. "It was just a wonderful feeling for my faculty and staff and my students and this community, the team. We've rallied as a team, we've worked really hard together."

The enthusiasm spilled over throughout the halls as parents and students made their way to classrooms to meet their new teachers.

"Coming back knowing how hard we worked to achieve that, I am more than excited," said Katie Garland, who's starting her 14th year teaching.

Orientation is meant to help ease some of the first-day jitters for students and teachers.

"Very nervous and overwhelmed," said first-year teacher Lindsey Dallas. "But I have done a lot of preparation, so I hope I have everything I need, just first-day jitters."

It's also uneasy for some parents, too.

"The nerves come to me because I'm leaving my little angels with someone that I don't really know," one parent said.

Students are just returning, but teachers have been back at it for a couple weeks preparing for the year.

"When we come back to work for pre-planning, everyone thinks that we're getting our rooms ready, and it's all meetings," Garland said. "So we pretty much spend all of our free time and on the weekends before school and after school setting up. It's the fun part, but it's stressful sometimes."

Come Tuesday, it's the students' turn to get back into things.