The beginning of a new school year is usually an exciting time, filled with new class schedules, new teachers and the familiar faces of friends.
But for students at Collins Middle School, the beginning of the 2015 school year is “chaotic,” “hectic” and “disappointing.”
Students did not receive class schedules or homeroom teacher assignments at an open house session Monday evening, and several displaced students said they are disappointed all their friends won’t be at one school this year.
After a number of failing facility issues were discovered last year, half of the school’s students were displaced in January to Oak Hill and Fayetteville high schools.
Students who remained at Collins were left without a gym, a band room, a cafeteria and a place for specialized classes that were normally taught in the main building.
Few solutions were found since then; this year, Collins’ eighth graders will be placed at Fayetteville High School and seventh graders will attend school at Oak Hill High.
Several parents who attended Monday’s open house confirmed an old shop building was converted for use as a combined cafeteria and gym.
“As a parent, I’m scared to death,” said Carrie Gravley, whose son Caleb will be entering 5th grade when school begins Aug. 13.
She described the situation as chaotic, especially for her son, who is diagnosed with ADHD.
“It’s hard for special needs students. The staff are doing what they can, but I would like to see something more stable.”
Gravley has even considered alternate solutions, such as enrolling her son in Nicholas County Schools, the county where she and her husband work, or even taking a financial hit to send her son to private school.
Jeremiah Light, who was a sixth grader at Collins last year, said when the school was condemned, he missed the seventh and eighth grade friends he made while playing football.
This year, Jeremiah will be at Oak Hill High School along with his seventh grade classmates.
“I’m pretty upset,” he said.
His mother, Sharon Light, said she is disappointed about the state of the Fayette County School system.
She said she’s considering home school for Jeremiah and her daughter Sarah because she is concerned about the type of education her kids will receive at Collins, a school currently with 11 vacant teaching positions.
Some parents, like Christa Hodges, are considering supplemental educational tools for their children, such as Jump Start programs, to ensure they’re progressing as they should be.
But for other parents, supplemental programs, home schooling and private schools just aren’t financially feasible.
Michelle, a single mother of four students in Fayette County schools, said those just aren’t options for her family.
“It’s kind of sad,” she said as she looked up at the building surrounded by orange construction tape. “This is where I went to school.”
Her daughter, Kaylan, was an eighth grader last year who was displaced to Fayetteville High School, but she said it felt “more like prison than school,” as the students were forced to use former storage spaces for classrooms.
Michelle said she hopes new Superintendent Terry George can get the school back on track and bring all the kids back under one roof.
Courtney Vargo, the mother of an upcoming fifth grader, shares that hope as well.
“My son is coming from New River Elementary. He’s leaving a brand new, gorgeous building, going to a building surrounded by orange tape.”
Vargo commended the teachers who have remained at Collins for sticking around, but she, too, shared concerns about the more than 40 vacancies in the county, as well as the remaining facility issues.
“My son is a kid who loves school. He thrives on learning... It’s hard to explain to a 10-year-old that you’re important and you’re valued when you can’t build them a new facility.”
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