Thomas Hart Benton Elementary School, true to its mascot of a bee, was buzzing with activity on Wednesday as teachers and staff members prepared for the first day of school.
“We’re doing our best to begin the year with a positive mind,” said home-school communicator Cathy Cox, who attended Benton as a child and began working at the school in 1994. “We do it every year.”
The staff was eager to interact with students and parents and ensure that newcomers feel welcome. During an open house Tuesday evening, about 115 students and their families munched on 500 pieces of chicken — an event Cox said was designed to create a family atmosphere.
“They’re not just student numbers to us," she said. "They’re people.”
Cox’s role as home-school communicator is to “deal with the socioeconomic aspect of kids being learners.”
Her office shelves are stockpiled with colorful backpacks, bottles of glue, crayons, Play-Doh and popcorn, all donated by community members, Walmart and Mediacom. Many children need assistance: Cox usually hands out between 50 and 75 pairs of new shoes each year and takes about 75 students to be outfitted by Operation School Bell, a program run by the Assistance League of Mid-Missouri.
She said she enjoys helping the children get the items they need to enter the classroom looking and feeling like everyone else.
Cox isn’t alone in her effort to make sure the students and their families are supported. Teachers have brought in new or worn clothing for children in past years; last year 13 teachers and church volunteers helped at a new mother's home.
“Our kids in this building, they’re all of our kids,” Cox said. “The teachers in this building go beyond teaching math and reading and science and social studies.”
On Thursday, the school’s staff will focus on helping new students adjust and make sure they’re all present.
Principal Troy Hogg’s secretary, Kimberly Fisher, said Hogg also reaches out to students. “If they’re brand new, he sits up here and talks to them,” Fisher said. “I think that’s why people are staying at Benton.”
Cox’s office is next door to Hogg’s, and though it’s cheerful with photos, plants and stuffed animals, she doesn’t spend a lot of time there.
Instead, she wanders around the school talking to students and teachers. “How many kids do I talk to everyday?” she laughed. “Just about all of them.”