MICHIGAN CITY – Children at a couple of Michigan City elementary schools got more than just locker assignments and new books on the first day of school – they got a warm greeting from the community.
Members of the Michigan City Rotary Club arrived early at Knapp Elementary to be meet students as they arrived – "to show the kids that the community supports them and that attending school should be a celebration," according to Marty Corley.
Corley, a Michigan City Police officer and past president of Rotary, said, "I enjoy seeing the smiles on the faces of the students, and when I see these children then I get excited about what they can become and how they will make this world a better place."
Making sure that happens is the point of the event, according to the Rotary member who came up with the idea, though it wasn't an original one.
"I had originally suggested the idea and reached out to principal Holly Martinez, who immediately said, 'Yes! That would be amazing'," Rotarian Lance Werner said.
"I was inspired by the FBI (Fathers Being Involved) group who were going to be at Edgewood. I thought it would be nice for Rotary Club members at another elementary school to greet students and let them know the community cares about their success in school."
The FBI event at Edgewood was a big hit with principal Kristin Smith.
"For the third year in a row, Edgewood's FBI, or Fathers and Father Figures Being Involved, joined the staff of Edgewood to greet our students and their families on the first day of school. These fathers are staples within the community and have made lifelong impacts on our students thus far. This year even more fathers joined us," she said.
"It is imperative for our students and their families to get excited for the new year, and feel comfortable starting a new journey. The excitement and ease that families feel as the school day begins warms my heart."
Students at both schools were met with cheers, applause, high-fives and adults wishing them well – and sneaking in a few photos.
"It was honestly one of the coolest first days of school I have ever seen," said Martinez, the Knapp principal. "They formed two lines and were giving high-fives to students and parents, as well as cheering them on as they walked down the hallway. The kids were so excited to have so many people cheering them on ...
"Everyone had a smile on their face and it really goes to show how powerful the support and love from our community really is for our students and families, and their happiness," she said.
"I don't think I can say this enough, but having a strong partnership with the community is a key factor in developing solid relationships both in and outside of our school walls which, in turn, will help to create our future leaders of Michigan City."
Rotarian Debra Varnak found it gratifying.
"The atmosphere was upbeat and the excitement in the air was palpable. As soon as they opened the doors, students and parents were greeted by Principal Martinez and we were next. Students walked through our welcome line as we high-fived, shook hands, clapped, and welcomed them back.
"Students and parents seemed genuinely excited by the red carpet entrance. They had huge smiles and looked ready to start the school year. We tried to give extra smiles to the little ones that looked scared or were holding on tightly to their parents."
Corley agreed that the kids seemed to enjoy the morning.
"The kids were happy to see the the line of adults there to greet them," he said. "I was thrilled to be a part of today’s event."
Smith said the FBI event "always begins with a meeting in the library, while enjoying donuts and coffee, to discuss the first family night of the year. As students entered the building and music filled the air, the FBI high-fived, cheered and welcomed students to the start of a fabulous first day of school."
Werner said getting Rotary members involved was easy.
"I thought Knapp would be ideal since Principal Martinez is a new principal and wants community partnerships," he said. "I asked the Rotary Board of Directors if they were interested and many expressed interest, so Jessica [O'Brien, Rotary president] asked our Rotary Club members."
Corley said the first-year event fit in well with his MCPD job.
"This event also fit in with my duties with the police department because the Shift I Patrol Division has a Cop Buddy program that has an officer from the dayshift assigned to a school that they go to at least once a week and spend about 15-20 minutes ...
"Knapp is my assigned school and I usually greet the kids in the morning one or two times a week. When I first started greeting the students last year, there were some confused faces because they thought someone was in trouble because the police were there, but once they saw me on a regular basis I received smiles and good mornings."
Martinez said Corley is "one of the main guys in the officer visit program" and someone "our building absolutely loves!"
Werner said he hopes it's not a one-time thing.
"We hope it will be an annual event for the Rotary Club and that other organizations in the community will consider contacting a school to greet students," he said.
Varnak is already looking forward to next year.
"I am certain that I got more out of the event than they did – I was inspired by the smiles as the kids looked me right in the eye and gave me that big high five! I was equally inspired by the teachers, staff and administrators," she said. "It was fun to be asked to help welcome students, and I appreciated the opportunity to let both students and teachers know how much the community cares about them. I’ll be looking forward to next year!"
Smith will, too.
"This is a great tradition that we hope to continue for many years to com," she said of the FBI welcome. "I hope that the relationships continue to grow and strengthen."