Colors were vibrant. Spirit was high.
Excitement enveloped those gathered, with a wee bit of nervous apprehension as well. The newcomers were wide-eyed and taking it all in, the been-there-done-that crowd moving lightly about and reacquainting with friends. Smiles and laughter prevailed Wednesday afternoon.
First day of school? Well, yes in a way, but not the students.
These were their leaders, all gathered in the Castle, the home gym of West Bladen High School. The annual Opening Day Convocation of the Bladen County Schools system had several moments of emotion, and the desired fair share of encouragement.
Inspirational messages were delivered by Johnathon Raynor of East Bladen, the county’s Teacher of the Year; Peggy Hester of West Bladen, the county’s Principal of the Year; and Evelyn Graham, president of the county’s Association of Teachers Assistants.
Remarks across the 90-minute program were also given by Superintendent Dr. Robert Taylor, Chairman Vinston Rozier of the school board and the Rev. Jason Williams of Foundation Bible Church.
Raynor and Williams each revealed late in their message how the troubled youth they described, each of which found a better path for adulthood, was actually themselves. They credited their turnaround to workers in their schools like those gathered, those with jobs as teachers, assistants, counselors, cafeteria workers, custodial staff and administrators.
Hester brought assurance to all that no matter the role, no matter the job, no matter the time or place, when it comes to the children of Bladen County, everyone and every thing they do for them does matter.
“It’s about the impact on the children,” Taylor said, summarizing the day’s speakers.
He hailed two important achievements for the school system, each of which drew ovations. An early college high school is now into its fourth week of existence, and the county’s graduation rate continues to exceed both state and national averages.
Among the goals for the coming year, some of which he said were already being met and simply needed to continue, he asked that staff help make sure children are fed so that the distraction of hunger would not hinder their educational pursuit. That goal recognizes the school system’s ability to feed students breakfast and lunch.
He also offered a word of thanks, particularly to the congregations of houses of worship.
“We have so many people who support us,” he said.
Johnathon Raynor, Bladen County’s Teacher of the Year, used an illustration with bricks and baggage describing his adolescence at Wednesday’s convocation. Written on the bricks were pain, doubt, anger, hurt, fear and anxiety.
The annual Opening Day Convocation of Bladen County Schools was closed with a prayer circle of the school principals around the Rev. Jason Williams of Foundation Bible Church. Clockwise from Williams, though not all visible, are Haley Cheshire of Duplin Primary, Stephanie Norris of Clarkton School of Discovery, Peggy Hester of West Bladen, Dia Collins-Thomas of Bladen Lakes Primary, Rodney Smith of Bladen Early College High School, Jason Wray of East Bladen, Teresa Coleman of Tar Heel Middle, Victoria Clark of East Arcadia, Deborah Guyton of Bladenboro Primary, Vanessa Ruffin of Plain View Primary, Randi Harrelson of Bladenboro Middle, Priscilla Brayboy of Elizabethtown Primary and Elizabeth Cole of Elizabethtown Middle.
Alan Wooten can be reached at 91-247-9132 or email@example.com. Twitter: @alanwooten19.