LAURINBURG — The 530 students settling in for the first days of school at Sycamore Lane Elementary this week have adjusted to much more than a transition from the beaches and playgrounds of summer to the same hallways, classrooms, and cafeterias they left in June.
After 30 years serving sixth through eight graders, the school is in its first year as an elementary school, on Monday welcoming students who last year attended Washington Park and Pate-Gardner.
“Once we got here and the kids saw it, their eyes just lit up — It’s almost like a new school to them,” said school principal Pam Lewis, noting that the first week of school has gone off without a hitch.
“The biggest thing was students finding their way. On those first couple of days we really had to beef up the support in the hallways. We literally had people every three or four feet to herd them through to their classrooms.”
Over the summer, Sycamore Lane’s restrooms were refitted and classroom furniture swapped for fixtures better suited to those aged in the single digits. As a middle school, Sycamore Lane was originally designed with three “pods,” each of which now serves two grades instead of one.
Along with the students, most of Sycamore Lane’s current staff have come from Washington Park and Pate-Gardner. Both of those schools are now closed, in an ongoing effort to reduce inefficiency.
To overcome any divide existing by teachers from each of the former schools, staff participated in several activities and exercises to help them break the ice, from preparing as a team for the new school year to work on Camp Monroe’s low ropes course and a pool party and cookout.
“We’ve done a lot of purposeful things to make sure that we come together as one school,” said Lewis. “We even put up phrases that we would not say: we were not going to say, well, we did it this way last year. We may have done it that way at Washington Park, but this is a new school and new people working together, so it’s not always the right way.”
With Sycamore Lane’s conversion to an elementary school, the number of middle schools in the Scotland County system is now down to two. Carver Middle School and Spring Hill Middle School are each serving some 200 erstwhile Sycamore Lane students.
“It seems like it has been a great transition and I’m excited to have more students and staff in the building,” said Carver principal Amber Watkins. “With the large numbers we’re able to have more support staff in the building to help with students’ needs as well as instructional needs.”
Carver’s student body is now up to 650, near the number it was designed to serve. While the school is far from crowded, the increase in students has brought strict schedules in getting them to the cafeteria and to electives.
“While we have more than 200 more students in the building on a daily basis, you can’t tell because things are just as quiet as normal and everyone is still transitioning with our schedule,” Watkins said.
“For everyone it was the fear of the unknown: what is the first day of school going to look like? But this year has started off as a great year: with so many changes that we had to work hard to put in place, everyone has had a positive attitude about it and everyone that I work with is excited about it.”
As a complement to Spring Hill’s magnet program for academically gifted students, Carver has introduced a similar program with a focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The program was opened to all sixth grade students in Scotland County for this year, and enrolled 60.
The academy will expand through eighth grade as the current class matriculates, and will continue to enroll new sixth-graders each year.
While most middle school students cycle through classes with an English and social studies teacher and a math and science teacher, the academy also has a designated STEM educator. Each of the three teachers incorporate STEM topics into their regular curriculum.
The academy also emphasizes hands-on activities and a breath of experiences, including planned field trips to local manufacturers to learn how STEM principles are applied practically.
“Our goal is for the students to get to know each other and to be as nontraditional about our practices as possible in order to meet the career needs that re required for a career in STEM: being able to problem solve, being able to work in groups and work with many different people,” Watkins said.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.