Students in the Columbus Municipal School District Wednesday were the first in the Golden Triangle to go back to school.
And, for a family at Joe Cook Fine Arts Magnet School, it was a very special first day, highlighting the importance of education in an unusually profound way.
First, Cook Assistant Principal Kimberly Gardner was surprised as she exited the school Wednesday afternoon and was greeted by her aunt, U.S. Army Sgt. Tiah Leech, who was home for a 15-day leave of duty from Baghdad, Iraq.
Leech, 24, arrived in Columbus Wednesday afternoon, with the specific intention of surprising her family members on their first day of school.
Leech”s other nieces — Sommer Lathan, 7, Johnetra Conner, 8, and Hannah Conner, 5 –similarly were shocked, as they, one by one, walked out of the school into the sunlight to see her.
“I surprised all my nieces at one time,” she laughed, as one of them clung to her outside the school. “It”s auntie”s day out from Baghdad today!”
Since she”s forced to miss most of the moments from the kids” school days, being with them on their first day is especially important to Leech, who has been serving in Iraq on her current tour since January and, at the conclusion of her period of leave, likely won”t return to Columbus again until November.
For Leech, the first day represented the very reasons for which she fights so hard away from home.
“All of them are going to the same school finally,” she explained. “I can remember my first day of school and that”s exactly what I”m fighting for. I can see my family getting educated and I can see my family having fun. This is the best way I could”ve spent my vacation.
“Month after month, year after year of active duty and you get to come back and see all the people you”re fighting for and the fruit of your labor,” she continued. “This was important because it”s school. It”s really important for me to instill the school system in them. I want them to know this is exactly what I”m deploying for. The education part is the most important.”
CMSD principals reported the first day of school went smoothly for other parents, teachers, staff and students in the district, as well.
“It”s been great,” said S.D. Lee Middle School Principal Cindy Wamble. “We”ve had a great day. Of course, it was hectic at first, but then everybody was where they were supposed to be, so we did very well.”
“The first day was awesome,” said R.E. Hunt Intermediate School Principal Tamela Barr. “We have had a wonderful day. Boys and girls were here ready to get started. Teachers were excited; everybody was ready to get started. It”s just been a wonderful day.”
“It has been the best start of a school year,” said Cook Principal Lois Kappler. “The teachers, the parents have been blown away by how smooth (it”s been). We have a lot of happy kids. It”s been an exciting day here. Everyone has come back with a great attitude.”
Fairview Aerospace and Science Magnet School Principal Billie Smith said the first day was “wonderful.”
And Sale International Studies Magnet School Principal Nancy Bragg characterized the day as “awesome.”
“It was really good,” Bragg elaborated. “The children came in and everybody was ready to go. Parents were excited, teachers were excited and everyone is just excited about being back to school. We had a great start.”
“It”s been great,” said McKellar Technology Center Director Cathy Kemp. “It”s been wonderful seeing the kids. We”re happy to see them. It”s been a great day; it”s my favorite day of the year!”
Students in the Lowndes County School District, Oktibbeha County School District, Starkville School District, West Point School District and Clay County School District began the 2009-2010 school year this morning.
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