By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County school officials want at least 1,000 community volunteers posted at the district's 60 schools on Aug. 10, to do three things - smile, hand out pencils and say "Welcome back" to the students as they begin a new school year.
District Community Relations Liaison Rhonda Burnough wants residents, and agencies in the community, to set a new record for the number of people volunteering to welcome students back on the first day of a new school year.
Burnough is turning to parents and community leaders, including county department heads, religious leaders, elected officials, school system administrators, social-service organization leaders, and representatives from each school's partners in education group, to find the volunteers needed to meet the district's goal.
The effort is known as the "Day One" program, which turns six this year.
Over the last four years, participation in the program has steadily grown, from approximately 400 people in 2004, to more than 800 last year.
"This event lets the students know the community is there to offer them support and encouragement," Burnough said. "It is [also] the school's opportunity to invite these people to come back and volunteer throughout the school year ... It's like our beginning of the year signature event."
Burnough said she believes the "Day One" program is important to the start of every school year, but she acknowledged that this year will be a fresh start for the district, because incoming superintendent, Edmond Heatley, will be one month into his tenure with the school system. Also, this year follows one in which the school district went from being accredited, to unaccredited, to restoring its accreditation.
"It's a new beginning," she said. "We'll have a new superintendent in place, and we'll be moving forward."
In addition to moving forward, she said "Day One" is a way to ramp up the feelings of excitement and anticipation students have as they begin a new school year.
"It generates excitement about learning, and it adds to the excitement about beginning a new school year," she said.
On Aug. 10, volunteers will stand outside each school in the early morning hours, when the sun is still rising, as they wait for the school buses to begin arriving.
Meanwhile, thousands of Clayton County students will wake up early as well. They will get themselves ready to leave their homes, grab their backpacks and head to the bus stops, where they will be picked up and brought to school. That is when the volunteers and the students will come face-to-face.
Burnough said she would prefer to have volunteers sign up by July 31, so she has more time to assign them to a school, but she added that she will accept volunteers until Aug. 7.
The organization or business which has the largest number of volunteers will be publicly recognized at the Sept. 14, or Oct. 5 Clayton County Board of Education meeting, she said.
Anyone interested in volunteering, should call Burnough at (770)473-2760, or send her an e-mail at email@example.com.