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Students get sneak peek at classrooms
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Carver Elementary Assistant Principal David Shultz greets fifth-grader Santino Ezekwem with a high-five at the schools open house Tuesday evening. - photo by Photo by Paul Floecker

Carver Elementary School’s open house Tuesday night brought some familiar faces back together.

Carver’s was the first of the open houses being hosted by each Bryan County school this week. It also was the first for Karen Smith as CES principal.

Smith saw plenty of students she recognized, though. She was Richmond Hill Elementary School’s assistant principal for the past two years after having taught there.

A number of students’ eyes lit up when they walked through Carver Elementary’s front entrance for open house and were greeted by Smith. Some exclaimed, “Miss Smith!” while others ran up to give her a hug.

“I’m looking so forward to Monday and starting the school year,” Smith said. “Welcoming the kids back is always my favorite part of every single year.”

Madison Quinlan, a fifth-grader at Carver this year, had Smith as her second-grade teacher at RHES. Her mother, Michelle Quinlan, described Smith as “amazing” and “the best teacher ever.”

“Knowing that she’s the principal here, we’re extremely excited,” Quinlan said. “We know what we’re getting, and we’re getting great.”

Meanwhile, Carver student Lizzie Mazel was giving a tour of the school to friend and fellow fifth-grader Brooke Lehr. Brooke and her family moved to Richmond Hill from Houston just three weeks ago, so Lizzie showed her around campus.

“I spent the whole year last year here, so I was here for fourth grade,” Lizzie explained.

The girls’ families have known each other since their fathers served together in the Coast Guard at Air Station Detroit in 2007. Derek Lehr and James Mazel both are now stationed at Hunter Army Airfield.

The Mazels have been in Richmond Hill since 2013. Having good friends in their new city made the transition easier for the Lehr family, especially since they moved less than a month before the start of the school year.

“It’s nice to have somebody that’s already established here for two years,” said Brooke’s mother, Tonya Lehr. “Being military, we have to rely on our friends as family.”

Lehr said Lizzie’s mom, Erin Mazel, has been a big help in answering her questions about the school district and the community. Mazel described it is simply as the “paying forward” that military families do for each other.

“When I moved here, there was an Army family we had served with before, and they filled us in and gave us the information,” Mazel said. “In a couple years, somebody else will come and she’ll contact Tonya, and the same thing will happen again.”

Brooke will have fewer schoolmates this year than Lizzie had as a fourth-grader. The addition of McAllister Elementary has lowered Carver’s enrollment to around 750 students, after it hit about 1,000 last year.

Quinlan shrugged off the brand-new school the students in McAllister’s attendance zone will have.

“We want to be where Miss Smith is,” she said with a smile. “They can have the new school. We’ll keep Miss Smith.”

Similar sentiments were common throughout the two hours of the open house. Smith said “it means the world” to hear that from students and parents as she begins her first year as a school principal.

“I got into education because I wanted to make a difference,” she said. “So, absolutely, for somebody to come back and say something so kind, it’s touching.

“It just really proves that I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

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