The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

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August 19, 2013

Athens students report back to 7 campuses

— Brilliant sunshine bathed parents and students Monday morning as they hurried across the street to James L. Cowart Elementary School, where an armada of teachers and support staff awaited new arrivals in the lobby.

Principal Kim Moore roamed the hallways of Cowart, a K-4 city school with an enrollment of 290 students, with her walkie-talkie, a bright smile and the composed demeanor of a veteran administrator despite a malfunctioning bell system.

Shelby Wallace, 25, clutched a new nap mat and the hand of her bouncy daughter, Tiffany Mason, 5, as they made their way down a hallway filled with outgoing parents.

Wallace guided Tiffany past the bright red barn door marking the entrance of the school cafeteria and under kindergarten teacher Hannah Cain’s mini-chalkboard door sign — punctuated by a smiling alien — as she prepared to let go of her only child for the first time.

After depositing her backpack and mat, Tiffany plopped into a tiny chair and plunged into a Play-Doh project with her new classmates as her mother whispered a short send-off, gave her three quick pecks on the forehead and stepped away to remove her glasses and wipe away a few tears.

A few moments later, Shelby left the classroom filled with cheery children and stepped into a near-empty hallway for a quick chat about the little girl with a brimming closet of school clothes thanks to a shopping jaunt to JCPenney’s with her grandfather, Elbert Wallace, and a trip to Walmart with her mom.

“She’s been ready for school since she was 3 years old — she never got to go to daycare because she’s had a baby-sitter. She’s been ready to go school, but I’ve not been ready,” said Shelby, a certified nursing assistant at nearby Limestone Health Facility. “I just tried to get her ready by talking to her about having to take naps — she’s one of those kids that never took naps — raising her hand, not talking in class without being called on, walking in a quiet line to the cafeteria and getting permission when she needs to go to the bathroom.”

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