Students return to class in Tupelo, Lee County

By Chris Kieffer and Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal

Knowing his first day of kindergarten was at hand, Tate Chappell of Tupelo got busy on Monday night ensuring he would have a special lunch at school.
The 5-year-old made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and grabbed some apple sauce, goldfish crackers and a Capri Sun for his lunch kit. Having attended Tupelo’s Early Childhood Education Center last year, the new Joyner Elementary School student told his mother he was big enough to walk to school by himself.
His mother, Tara Chappell, said it wasn’t quite time for that.
“I’m a little nervous, but also having a fourth-grader, this is my second time around,” Chappell said while walking Tate into Joyner on Tuesday morning. “I’m a little emotional because it means my baby is in school.”
Tuesday was the first day of school for students in the Tupelo and Lee County school districts, as well as many other school districts in Northeast Mississippi. Most of the students in the region will have started class by Thursday.
On Tuesday, while some were beginning their first day of school, others were starting their final year of high school.
“When I started kindergarten, it seemed like it was yesterday,” said Tupelo High School senior Jordan Miles, 17. “You blink, and it is over.”
Jordan and his fellow seniors gathered in the parking lot of Harrisburg Baptist Church before 6:45 on Tuesday morning. They then paraded onto the THS campus.
“I’m really excited,” said Mary Bailey, 17.
At Shannon Primary School, parents escorted kindergartners to their classrooms and said goodbye. Teachers then led students to breakfast, demonstrated routines and showed them around the school.
“I haven’t seen any kids crying,” said Principal Shelly Brooks, “only mamas.”
Brooks said she wants parents to know their kids are safe, and the first day was focused on ensuring everyone was happy and on modeling procedures for the school’s kindergarten to second-grade students.
Even though this wasn’t their first year, students in the upper grades were still eager to get started.
“I get to go to the big grade,” said first-grader Victoria Keith, more optimistic than her second-grade brother, Gage, who anticipates the work will be harder.
Meanwhile, Pierce Street Elementary School third-grader Jarvis Ross began his year with style.
A couple of days earlier, Pierce Street Principal Kenny Goralczyk had seen Jarvis and asked him what it would take for the 8-year-old to be excited about starting school.
If he could be principal, Jarvis said, that would do the trick. Goralczyk said he would make that happen, if Jarvis would remind him on the first day of school.
Come Tuesday, the principal felt a tug on his arm as he greeted students and parents outside the school. “Remember me?” Jarvis asked.
So the 8-year-old became principal for the first 10 minutes of school, making the rounds with Goralczyk as he walked the hallways to check in with teachers.
“You go around and check on people and check on buses and ask teachers if they need anything,” Jarvis said of his routine, adding that it was a good way to start his first day.
Pierce Street teachers handed lollipops to students as they walked in the doors. Each educator also greeted the school’s students with a motivational quote.
“It is about setting the tone early when they get here,” Goralczyk said.
Tupelo Superintendent Gearl Loden said he looks forward to “another excellent school year.”
“Our students, teachers and parents seemed enthusiastic about the beginning of classes, as seen on their faces throughout the course of the day,” he said. “After touring the schools this morning, I saw teachers teaching and students engaged in learning.
“Buses safely transported our students throughout the district this morning and to each of their homes this afternoon.”
Lee County School District Superintendent Jimmy Weeks said his district also began on a good note.
“It went really well,” Weeks said. “I checked with folks across the district and with the transportation department, and everything went smoothly. The campuses I visited were having class 10 to 15 minutes after the bell rang. I can’t brag enough on our principals and teachers. The kids showed up today, and they went to work.”
The first morning of the year at Guntown Middle School was “controlled chaos,” Principal Steven Havens said.
“For middle-schoolers, the baby years are over,” he said.
Sixth-grade science teacher Natalie Poland noted it can be a challenging transition for those entering the school.
“Sixth-graders go from being the oldest ones at school to the lowest on the totem pole again,” she said.
That didn’t seem to matter to sixth-grader Shelby Simmons.
“I’m ready to see friends and am excited to be in a new place,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mooreville High School senior Ashley Rushing, 17, arrived at school 25 minutes early on Tuesday to make sure she could get a good senior parking spot.
“I’m sad because I don’t want to graduate,” she said. “I have a lot of memories here.”
Fellow Mooreville senior Tanner Newman, 17, was ready for what he expected to be his greatest year.
“I think I will make memories that last a lifetime with friends I’ve been with all my life and with new friends,” Tanner said.

See more photos from the NEMS Daily Journal today.