Students at Goodyear Elementary School arrived to a loud, emphatic welcome Thursday morning.
School buses pulled up around 7 a.m., and students disembarked to find a wall of community volunteers cheering for them and offering encouragement on the first day of the new school year.
Inspirational pop songs — Pharrell Williams’s “Happy,” Katy Perry’s “Firework” — blared through speakers as the students arrived. More than 60 people, including community leaders, local educators, business owners, healthcare professionals and clergy, greeted the students.
“Students were both shocked — in awe — and excited,” said Oatanisha Dawson, principal at Goodyear Elementary. “They were surprised, and just on their faces you could see, ‘Wow, for me? This is different. This is awesome.’”
Inside, families ate breakfast together, and parents took students to their classrooms. Book bags bumping between their shoulders, students walked through the halls and said hello to teachers and fellow classmates.
As the second wave of students arrived later in the morning, either on foot or by car, volunteers continued to welcome them with a chorus of “Good morning” and “Have a great day,” waving them in as the students walked through the school’s front doors.
Jasbea Thomas walked inside with her first-grader, Tysean, who was too excited for breakfast when they first arrived so she took him straight to his new classroom.
On their way back to the cafeteria, Tysean smiled and waved at a classmate.
“I get to see new friends,” he said, when asked why he was happy to be back.
Thomas, who drops her son off at school every day, said she’s a proud mom as she watched him start a new school year.
“I’m excited, because he’s growing up, and he’s showing me that he’s learning,” she said.
Kendra Rolle, Goodyear’s parent involvement coordinator, organized the welcome event, which she modeled after similar events in other areas.
“It’s just an encouragement, so the students can know that the community supports them, to let them know that we’re excited for them for the first day and for the entire school year,” Rolle said.
Some community leaders Rolle invited couldn’t come, she said, because they were greeting students at other schools around the county.
At Goodyear, law enforcement both from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and local agencies took part in the welcome event.
“We want to make sure that everybody feels safe in the schools,” said Brunswick Police Maj. Greg Post. “Of course, we have the school police here, but this morning they’re out doing the traffic so they can’t really greet the kids.”
The event aimed to make students aware that an entire community is rooting for them this school year, Dawson said.
It’s a message their teachers provide all year, she said. But the larger and louder their cheering section, the better.
“It goes a little bit further when you have a total stranger, and then several of them, saying ‘Have a great year this year, do your very best, I’m rooting for you, you can, you will,’” Dawson said. “The message is a little more clear.”