By Curt Yeomans
It has become an annual ritual every August, in Clayton County Public Schools.
An army of volunteers, including parents, faith-based leaders, public safety officials, members of the military, business leaders, and elected officials, stand guard at the entrances to all of the schools in the county just as the sun is beginning to rise on the first day of school.
Their mission: Greet students as they get off their school buses, or out of their parents' cars, or walk up to their schools, and give them a few words of encouragement. The endeavor has been dubbed the Day ONE initiative.
"The purpose is to have these people at the schools on the first day, so they can let the students know they are behind them, and to encourage them to do well in the upcoming school year," said School System Community Relations Liaison Rhonda Burnough, who organizes Day ONE. "They represent this county's future, and we need to let them know we are behind them."
According to Burnough, the goal for this year is to get at least 1,000 volunteers for the seventh annual Day ONE initiative. Last year, the district tallied 1,050 volunteers.
The first day of the 2010-2011 school year is Aug. 9, according to the calendar for the upcoming year. Burnough wants volunteers to commit by July 27, so she will have time to assign them to a school.
The Day ONE initiative, which began in 2004 under then-Superintendent Barbara Pulliam, draws a large number of people from across the county each year. It also has gained some national recognition recently by winning a Golden Achievement award from the National School Public Relations Association.
Burnough said having community members and leaders at the schools to greet students can be comforting for the youngsters, especially the pre-Kindergartners and kindergartners who are coming to school for the first time.
"It's also comforting for the parents who are sending their children to school for the first time, because they get to see that members of the community are actively involved in the schools," she said.
She added that the Day ONE initiative also serves as an annual kick-off for the district's volunteer program. Burnough also oversees the volunteer program for the school system. The hope coming out of Day ONE, she said, is that the people who volunteer to be at the schools on the first day, will decide to continue throughout the remainder of the year.
"This gives them an opportunity to go into the schools, and see the incredible things our students are doing. Hopefully, that will encourage them to become volunteers," Burnough said.
Prospective Day ONE volunteers should call Burnough at (770) 473-2760, or send her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.