Born and raised in Pembroke, Brandon Shuman attended Bryan County Elementary School at its former campus on Ash Branch Road.
Now in his fifth year teaching in his hometown, Shuman began the school year Monday at the brand-new BCES campus.
“It’s like winning the lottery,” Shuman said. “It’s terrific.”
Bryan County Elementary welcomed 520 students on Monday, up from 472 last year, Principal Julie Gannam said. The new school was built for 600 students and designed to be able to add a wing for 400 more if necessary.
The student increase included 20 new enrollments on the first day of class, according to Gannam. But even with the enrollment hike and last-minute sign-ups, the start of the school year was “smooth as glass,” she said.
“Our kids came in smiling and happy,” Gannam said. “The teachers are happy. Everybody is just thrilled to be here.”
With its new location on Payne Drive, BCES is now clustered in the same area with Bryan County Middle and Bryan County High. That will be a convenience for parents with children at more than one school, Gannam said.
However, having three schools that close together could result in more traffic congestion. So, Bryan County Elementary’s school day was pushed back 15 minutes from last year, to start at 8:15 a.m. and end at 3:20 p.m.
“That was the only big change for (parents),” Gannam said. “They were out there before we even got here (Monday morning).”
One factor in the first day going so smoothly, according to Gannam, is the road that was built behind the school for pick-up and drop-off of students who are car riders. The road is wide enough for two lanes of cars and, by looping behind the school, keeps car-rider traffic off the main road and frees up space for all the buses to line up in front of the school.
In a car-rider tradition that carried over from the old Bryan County Elementary, Ray Hall was the first driver in line as school ended on Monday. His three granddaughters – fifth-graders Stacy Callahan and Jordan Moore and fourth-grader Helen Gaddis – attend BCES.
“I’ve been the first one in line for four years,” Hall said with a laugh. “Every afternoon, I pick them up and we go to the library to do homework.”
Gannam praised Hall, 72, for being an active volunteer at the school. He was impressed by the campus where he now will be helping.
“I love it,” Hall said. “It’s outstanding. I can’t get over the size of the classrooms. It’s tremendous.”
Shuman, who teaches third-grade math, science and social studies, agreed. He said the larger classrooms are his favorite aspect of the new campus.
“I enjoy the space,” he said. “That’s the big thing, because you can do so much more with the kids in this amount of space.”
As students began their schoolwork, crews were in the midst of finishing their work at BCES. Bleachers were installed Monday as the gymnasium neared completion, and lettering needs to be added to the brick sign in front of the school.
Meanwhile, Gannam was happy to show off the multi-purpose room – a feature the previous BCES did not have. Along with housing the cafeteria, the room has a varnished, hardwood floor to hold performances.
Gannam credited her staff for the work they put in leading up to the first day of class. The school construction gave teachers only about a week to put their classrooms together, she said.
“I actually cried Saturday because it was really the first time I got to go in the rooms to look at all the teachers had done,” Gannam said. “Their rooms are gorgeous. It just filled my heart because they’ve worked so hard.”