Smiles return as school year starts in person

Charity Vickers says goodbye to her 5-year-old son, Dominic, in his classroom on the first day of school at The Villages Charter Elementary School Primary Center.

Candice Sykes couldn’t wait to welcome smiling kids and their proud parents to the first day of school in person. Sykes, vice principal of The Villages Primary Center, got to do so Thursday, when she, other educators and thousands of students with The Villages Charter School kicked off a new year. “The feeling of having the parents come into school, to have the students happy about being here and to see them smile, it feels whole again,” Sykes said. Nearly 4,000 students  are enrolled at VCS for the 2021-22 school year — 1,530 rom the Villages Charter Elementary School, 820 from the Villages Charter Middle School and 1,045 at the Villages High School.

Alyssa Miller, one of the 230 seniors of the class of 2022 at VHS, said she felt sad to see summer end but also excited to be back with her friends.

“With senior year finally here, I’m excited but think there are a lot of lasts approaching. Last football game, last tests and my last prom. Many things we take for granted will be coming to an end in just nine short months,” she said.

Alyssa is also a varsity cheerleader of VHS Cheer, a new addition to the school’s Spirit Program.

VHS Principal Rob Grant, “loves opening day — it’s always exciting,” he said.

Grant and fellow administrative staff periodically checked on staff and students throughout the first day and monitored hallways.

“Especially during transition times, we’ll be out in the hallways directing kids, kind of like traffic,” Grant said. “And especially freshmen and new kids.”

Grant also is ready to reinforce the school’s culture this year when it comes to uniform policy and IDs, not only as safety protocol but to promote the ideals of professionalism.

“A major goal also this year is to keep students highly engaged with great lesson plans and opportunities,” Grant said.

Alongside traditions, this new school year will be the one of firsts.

Included with morning announcements during first period was a state-mandated moment of silence, meant to serve as a one-to-two minute period of self-reflection.

While VCS will maintain 100% in-person instruction and make masks optional, the schools will keep up with cleaning protocols and providing hand sanitizer.

Director of Education Randy McDaniel expressed the need for, “a lot of patience and flexibility” in the coming months.

Principal LeAnne Yerk, of the Village Charter Elementary School, also said children will get extra help with the transition back to in-person instruction, especially those who did online learning all of last year.

“We are thrilled to have them back with us on campus and certainly want to keep their health and safety as a high priority,” Yerk said. “And also to have them catch up with where they need to be.”

Another continuation from last year is free lunch and breakfast for students through the VCS Food Service program, available to all students at any grade level through a waiver system, as funds last.

Staff writer Garrett Shiflet can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5367, or garrett.shiflet@thevillagesmedia.com.