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First day of school receiving lines eyed / July 08, 2019
Wanted: A few good men.

Actually, make that 220 men — and women — to greet students upon their return to school.

Sandra Garner-Coleman, vice-chairman of the Halifax County School Board, has kicked off an effort to recruit 20 adults at each of the county’s 11 schools to “create a receiving line to cheer our children to encourage them to have a great academic year” on the first day of school, Aug. 14.

Initially, Garner-Coleman aimed to find 220 men who would provide the morale boost for students. The idea, she says, was to have male role models in the community standing in line at 7:15 a.m. to greet children as they got off the bus.

“I just thought that if I could get 20 professionally dressed men to cheer children on to have a great year,” then it would introduce positive male figures into children’s lives. Garner-Coleman said she was inspired by groups in Texas and North Carolina who have volunteered for similar duty.

“There is a group of guys in Dallas, just a Focused Fathers [group], and that’s what they do,” she said. The group in North Carolina represents a mix of social fraternities.

According to information from the Virginia Department of Education, certain subsections of the male student population perform worse on Standards of Learning tests than average, especially compared to their female peers. Garner-Coleman said some of this has to do with girls maturing more quickly than boys, but added that boys often lack the guidance and support that male role models could provide in their lives.

Hence the idea to seek out men in the community to cheer on students, with Garner-Coleman putting the request in writing. “Initially I sent a letter out,” she said.

The letters went to churches, community groups, and individuals that Garner-Coleman knew. As a teacher, she said that she has often made home visits, church visits, and phone calls so that she could “let my face be known.” She had hoped to build a list of men to assign to various schools around the county, with 20 at each school — the county’s seven elementary schools, middle and high schools, the STEM Center, New Beginnings Alternative Program and South Boston Early Learning Center.

But once she put out the request, Garner-Coleman said she began receiving phone calls from parents asking why she was only looking for men. That was when she decided to change tack and open the event to all parents.

“I really don’t want to offend anybody,” she said. “People were calling me and they were saying, ‘Well Mrs. Coleman, I want to be involved too.’ That means they want to be involved — that’s a good thing.”

The ED-3 trustee said there has been a similar response on social media, with a back-and-forth discussion by supporters of each approach. The first-day walk of encouragement is part of a larger effort by HCPS to build community outreach, something that Garner-Coleman said she has long believed in.

“We’re doing it to address a community objective to strengthen the bond between community and school,” Garner-Coleman said.

“We want Mom and Dad to see us in a different light than just a teacher in a classroom or a school board member.”

Other community outreach efforts include the End of School Year Bash and the Back 2 School Expo, which last year drew 1,200 people. This year’s Back 2 School Expo, set for Saturday, Aug. 3 at Halifax County High School, will feature William Denson, a motivational speaker who founded A Father Forever, a non-profit organization that aims to decrease the number of children being raised without the support of fathers.

Ultimately, Garner-Coleman said she wants to recruit 12 men to go through a training program similar to the Fathers Collective programs — to serve, essentially, as mentors to at-risk youths and prevent them from being kept out of the classroom on disciplinary issues.

“We’re hoping it will have an impact on discipline. We can only try,” she said.

As for the first-day-of-school receiving line event, on Aug. 14, Garner-Coleman has widened the appeal for volunteers to encompass all adults, male or female. Anyone who wants to participate should call his or her local school and alert the principal that he or she is coming.

“I want them to put on their Sunday best,” Garner-Coleman said, although formal attire will not be required. “I think people are just going to dress appropriately. I mean, if you put on jeans and a shirt, that’s okay.”

Coleman said the request is not limited to adults with children in the school system. She noted that the New Beginnings Alternative Program will begin with only 10 students, which means there will be very few people at the STEM center to encourage those students. She asked that someone reach out and volunteer there.

The receiving lines are optional for children who are uncomfortable with loud noises or crowds.

“We want [the greetings] to be as memorable as possible for the children of Halifax County,” Garner-Coleman said.

She said that it was all part of a larger effort to “cultivate greatness in every child, as a school district.”

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What a waste of time. Need to stop pandering to these kids and bring back strict discipline.

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