SEBRING – As about 12,000 children around Highlands County get ready to head back to “readin,” “ritin” and “rithmitic,” there is a sense of apprehension and excitement filling the halls.
In Highlands County Thursday night, some of the county’s elementary, middle and high schools held orientations for new and returning students for the 2014-15 school year.
Inside 11 of the county’s 17 public schools, parents and students took in the sights and sounds of new learning environments or, in other cases, got to see what the next step in their education looks like.
While some of the Kindergarten Learning Center’s approximately 375 students and their parents roamed hallways and classrooms at the school, 3560 U.S. 27, Principal Julia Burnett smiled and greeted families as they made their way in.
The school’s parking lot was jammed with cars entering and exiting. Just after making their way inside, Sebring’s Brian and Bobbie Jo Martin and their 5-year-old daughter, Hayden, stood at a desk in the school multi-purpose room to buy school T-shirts.
As she clutched a blue school T-shirt, Bobbie Jo said she was happy to see her daughter moving into the educational system but lamented one inevitability that couldn’t be avoided.
“I’m not looking forward to my baby growing up,” she said. “But I am excited about all the learning experiences she’s fixing to go through.”
Not far from the Martins stood Luis Viera’s family: his wife, Dialis Salgado, and their children Bryan Viera, 5, and Emily Viera, 18 months. The family has just moved to Sebring from Bayamon, Puerto Rico, and hoped their children would grasp English quickly.
“We’re looking forward to the security he has at the school; everyone seems very nice,” said Luis. “His first language is not English. We want him to learn the teachers are important to him in the process of learning English.
Dialis had another concern and the only reason she was hesitant about letting her son slip away into academia.
“I hope he doesn’t get discriminated against for not being from here; I hope he doesn’t get bullied.”
School orientations, which began Thursday in many schools, end at 7 p.m. Aug. 18 with open houses at Lake Placid Middle School, Sun ‘n Elementary, Avon Elementary, Fred Wild Elementary, Park Elementary, and Cracker Trail Elementary.
About a mile east of the learning center, more seasoned students made their way into the corridors of Sebring Middle School, 500 E. Center Ave. There, many of the school’s approximately 770 students milled around the courtyard and chatted in hallways.
Walking toward the school multi-purpose room, Principal Sandi Whidden said other than the challenge of keeping her hair “nice,” there wasn’t much she didn’t look forward to about returning to her main office desk. She said orientations were the best way to form bonds with students and their families.
“I just look forward to building relationships with kids and parents,” said Whidden, in her 14th year at the school. “During the summer, I miss the interactions with the people; it’s too quiet during the summer.”
Standing in the center of an informational booth filled multi-purpose room, Teri Dosil looked over the sixth-grade class schedule for her son, L.J., as he stood with her.
She said her son was a bit different in that he was “ready to be back in school.”
“He enjoys it when he’s at school. There’s nothing he minds about it and we’re both looking forward to it,” she said.
L.J., 12, agreed except for a few minor details.
“I don’t like having to figure out where everything is, making new friends,” he said of the move from elementary to middle school. “But I like going back to school; I get bored during the summer.”
That sentiment echoed around the halls of education during the orientations Thursday -- even if it did take a little bit of adult encouragement.
Standing outside of the Kindergarten Learning Center, 5-year-old Malia LaBoo stood close to her mother, Corryette LaBoo. Correyette said Malia was making the “transition” to public school. With some reassuring words, Malia said she was ready for school, even though Corryette wasn’t so sure.
“I’m looking forward to her learning what it takes to be a good student, but it’s tough letting her grow up,” she said.