The Men's Ministry at Riverside Missionary Baptist Church shared words of encouragement and back-to-school greetings with children at Levi Elementary School. (Photo: Shelby County Schools Twitter)

Cheerleaders, drumlines, dancing teachers and mascots meshed with engaged administrators, parents and community supporters of education as Shelby County Schools students stepped into the 2019-20 school year on Monday.

“We promise that this school administration will continue to promote a healthy working relationship with teachers, parents and principals, always keeping our children at the forefront,” proclaimed new school Supt. Dr. Joris Ray, who visited 10 schools.

“We want our parents to stay engaged with their children’s school, closing the gap between home and school. Not just parents, though,” said Ray.  We need the entire community to partner with us to provide the most successful, educational experience possible for our children.”

He visited 10 schools with to “kick off a great school year” and encourage students, teachers, and school staff.

Shadonica Scruggs, principal of Delano Optional Elementary School in Frayser, said the Delano School family was honored by Ray’s visit.

“We had a drumline, our children did the school chant — ‘Delano Tigers, Delano Tigers!’ Our teachers danced, and we had a mascot dressed like a tiger. It was so much fun. Our students feel good about starting the new school year, and so do we.”

Ray commended staff and teachers for diving right in to do work on the first day.

Delano was also celebrating a new technology building.

“Our technology will enable us to offer instruction in communications and broadcast journalism on the elementary level,” said Scruggs. “So many wonderful learning opportunities are being offered across our school district. We feel so grateful and blessed to be a part of that.”

Later, in an interview with The New Tri-State Defender, Ray touted the district’s sensitivity to adverse childhood experiences.

“We know that it is important to understand and recognize that many of our students are bringing their best,” he said. “But there is real trauma there — emotional, physical, sexual, mental — all kinds of abuse and neglect is being inflicted on young people. Our social emotional learning model rolling out in the future reflects that acknowledgment to trauma must be dealt with and the child treated with compassion and empathy.”

Newly appointed Melrose High School Principal Taurin Hardy said social emotional learning and recognizing adverse childhood experiences is critical to more positive outcomes with classroom learning and behavior.

“I am the first one in my family to go to college,” said Hardy. “When I was in school, my older brother was diagnosed with cancer. I had to miss a lot of school driving him to his treatments and doctors appointments. That effected me in a way I have not really talked about.

“But students today deal with so many situations that make it imperative to be compassionate. This school and the children here are loved and cared about by the Orange Mound Community. You can’t even talk about Melrose without talking about Orange Mound. Parents are so supportive and engaged in the school,” he said.

At Melrose, the focus is on the arts, academics, and athletics, Hardy said.

“It’s not just about making sure our students get passing test scores. We want that as well. But a strong, well-rounded educational experience is our goal.”

For Hardy, being principal of Melrose is more than a job.

“It is a calling,” he said. “As a black man, I must be fully committed to the well-being of our students. I must be concerned with everything that concerns them.”

Across SCS,tThe overall theme of caring for every concern of a student carried the day.

“…Like just this morning, there was one student who looked very sad. I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ He said, ‘I am afraid.’ I asked why, and he said because Delano was a new school and he didn’t know anyone. So I said, ‘It’s going to be alright. I tell you what. Why don’t you just hang out with me today.’ And that’s just what he did.” Barbara Whitmore, financial secretary, Delano Elementary School

 “I was a parent back in 2006, and I began to volunteer at the school. That very next year, I became athletic director. We love our community. We love our children, and we’re just so appreciative of the beautiful spirit of our faculty and staff. It’s important that our children know that everything we do here at Melrose is about them.” Tonia M. Carpenter, athletic director, Melrose High School

 “These are all my children. They belong to me, and I love them. That comes with our job. This is what we must do. Love our children and to let them know we are here to help. Not just mine, but these are the community’s children. They belong to Orange Mound.” Toni Blankenship, family engagement specialist, Melrose High School