Lincoln Heights Elementary’s first day felt more like a red carpet gala than a return to school. Community members and teachers lined the walkways, hugging and high-fiving students and their parents as they entered the building.
The school’s Parent Teacher Association organized this warm welcome to boost parental involvement at Lincoln Heights, which has suffered from declining enrollment and test scores since losing its magnet status in 2010. Three-quarters of its students qualified last year for free and reduced-price school lunches, a metric commonly used to measure poverty within student populations.
“The focus is still on those issues,” said Erin Laskowich, the Lincoln Heights PTA treasurer who spearheaded the event. “But I feel like we’re doing something to address them this year.”
Parents, and fathers especially, were encouraged to walk their children into school on Monday and see them off. Community members, including a group of men from nearby St. Augustine’s Missionary Baptist Church, joined teachers and parents at the front entrance at 7:30 a.m. to show support for the school’s students, especially those unaccompanied by parents.
“A lot of these kids, their parents have to be at work this time of morning,” said Marvin Connelly, Wake County Public Schools’ chief of staff. He was on campus Monday morning.
“It’s always important for kids to see adults encouraging them, supporting them,” he said. “We just want them to have a warm feeling when they get back to school. That’s what this is about.”
In the background, construction crews could be heard working on a new wing for the 51-year-old school, which students will begin using early next year. The school’s renovation will be complete by 2018.
Principal Todd Baulch said Monday was the most energized first day of school since he arrived at Lincoln Heights almost three years ago. Much of that was because of teachers like Cathie Linkous, whose greetings and words of encouragement were delivered with enthusiasm.
Linkous has been at Lincoln Heights for eight years, where she was preceded as a teacher by her mother, who taught at the school for 22 years and sometimes still fills in for her daughter. Between animated greetings, Linkous was able to answer questions one sentence at a time. She said said she recognized some of the parents dropping kids off Monday as her mother’s former students.
“What we’ve discovered is that a lot of these kids’ parents have had prior bad experiences, and we don’t want kids to get the wrong idea about school because their parents had a bad experience,” Linkous said. “We want to show them we’re here to make their kids safe and happy.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan