Jamie Foy thinks her child’s school, South Smithfield Elementary, doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
“This school does so many things for each child, has had so many positive impacts on our community and is right in our backyard,” said Foy, the mother of a first-grader. “Yet its efforts are rarely appreciated.”
Foy appeared recently before the Smithfield Town Council to invite the town’s elected leaders to a back-to-school celebration at South Smithfield, a K-5 school. At the celebration, held Aug. 5, music blared across the playground, Principal Laura Mackey and her staff danced with students, mascots from Zaxby’s and Chick-fil-A posed for photos, and students received gifts of books while enjoying cotton candy and snow cones.
Mackey said the purpose of the back-to-school celebration was to connect the school to the community that surrounds it. It’s “a chance to come together as one amazing family – the family of the Dynamic Dolphins,” she said, referring to the school’s mascots.
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Foy attended the celebration with her husband, her first-grader James and 2-year-old daughter Emory.
“This is such a small part of the great things this school does for our kids,” Foy said. “This is just part of them showing how much they care about bringing parents and students and the school together.”
For Mackey, in a ball cap and sunglasses, it was an emotional day.
“Smithfield schools get a bad wrap,” she said. “But I am extremely proud of this school. This is not my school; this is our school.
“This is what it’s all about,” she said, pointing to children running around and laughing and parents chatting in small groups.
One student walked up to Mackey as she was talking and hugged her. “This, this is what it’s all about,” she repeated, hugging the student, emotion in her voice. “This is why we’re here.”
It’s about making the community feel involved and connected to the school, Mackey said.
“We want strong partnerships and good relationships to realize the vision of this school,” she said. “And to see so many people come out to celebrate with us ... I’m so proud.
“I didn’t know if there would be two people here or 200,” she added, wiping a few tears behind her glasses. “But this shows how powerful community can be.”
Mackey praised the diversity of parents and students who showed up for the event.
“We have such a diverse school, and some of these parents might never have talked to each other before,” she said. “This is exactly what we wanted ... We want to be a family.”
Jacqueline Castillo Herrera, a kindergartener at the school, sat in a tutu and enjoyed a snow cone next to her puppy, Charlie, who was sprawled in a red wagon.
“The snow cones and music are good,” Herrera said, swaying back and forth from her seat on the grass.
First-grader James Foy was happy to be out on the swings. “I love my school,” he said, kicking his legs to swing higher.
Kaylin Kinder, another kindergartener, said she was happy to be with her friends.
“It’s fun to come to school and it not be like school,” she said, arms out to balance on a playground balance beam. “We can be on the playground as much as we want.”
“It’s a chance for the community and the school to connect and remember it’s more than just report cards,” Mackey said. “We want our students to perform well, but we also want them to be happy, and we want a great partnership with our parents to make both of those things happen. We’re in it together.”
Abbie Bennett: 910-849-2827; @AbbieRBennett