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1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Students arriving by bus head inside Parker Elementary School for the first day of school Aug. 8. (Photo Credit: Jim Hughes) VIEW ORIGINAL
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2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Students walk across Red Cloud Road on Fort Rucker for the first day of the 2022-23 school year at Ellis D. Parker Elementary School Aug. 8. Officials remind drivers to remain vigilant and adhere to speed limits, especially in the housing areas and school zone. (Photo Credit: Jim Hughes) VIEW ORIGINAL
School 3
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A kindergarten class gets started on the first day of the school year at Parker Elementary School Aug. 8. (Photo Credit: Jim Hughes) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker children headed back to Ellis D. Parker Elementary School for the first day of the 2022-23 school year Aug. 8.

The students’ arrival after summer vacation proved to be the best the school has seen to date, according to Principal Dr. Vicki Gilmer, who added the first day of school is always a highlight of the year.

“It’s the best,” she said. “When the walkers and bikers cross the street, I think that’s my favorite moment of the year. You can look at their faces and see them smiling – they’re excited and it’s just that energy of a child about to go do some stuff, learn some things. Their faces are priceless – I love that first day feel!”

And this was a first day for the record books, Gilmer told the students over the public address system once they settled into their kindergarten-sixth grade classrooms – pre-k will start Aug. 22.

“Our arrival time is at 8:10 a.m. and all of the students entered the building by 8:21 a.m. – everyone was here and in place, and breakfasts were picked up by students who eat breakfast with us,” the principal said. “Kudos to the parents – everyone had tags on and we knew exactly where everyone belonged. It was quick and efficient.

“Usually on the first day, it takes us a minute” to get the flow going, she added. “But today, the car (drop-off) line, the bus line, and the walkers and bikers were all just smooth sailing, similar to as if it was later on in the week and not the first day. It was fantastic!”

It was the perfect start to what Gilmer hopes will be a “great adventure” of a year.

“My vision for this school year, and one that we set with the staff, is this is a great adventure,” the principal said. “We’ve got a song lined up for the kids about this place – specifically about this school and this place, and what it should be to them. It’s an opportunity to be a great adventure, to be a great community where they’re loved and respected, and they can grow. That’s our vision for them.”

She said once again inviting parents back into the school will help achieve that goal.

“We’re back to an open campus, so parents who had not seen the inside of the classrooms in two years had the opportunity to attend our sneak a peek event (Aug. 5) – to come into the building and actually go into the classroom areas,” Gilmer said.

“We’ll also be able to have parent volunteers come back into the building and assist, and we’ll be able to invite parents to lunch,” she added. “We’ve been very guarded and very protective (during the pandemic), and we will continue to be so, but we have a little bit more flexibility now about getting parents back into the building as our partners.”

That flexibility also benefits the school’s various clubs and teams that have been unable to compete or forced to operate virtually, Gilmer said.

“A lot of our clubs will be back in full action,” she said. “We have a robotics team that was not able to compete, and we haven’t had any field trips – those kinds of things we’ll now be able to make operational again. We have a Beta Club that competed virtually last year, and this year they will be able to compete and actually travel. We’ll be able to get back on the road to do some cool things.”

Leading the charge in creating that great adventure will be Parker Elementary School staff, which represents the Fort Rucker community it serves well, Gilmer said.

“We always have a good mix of incoming military spouses who join us and veteran teachers, as well,” she said. “We have a good blend kind of what Parker Elementary is – we have families who stay here for a good minute, and then we have families who come and go. The makeup of the school is similar.

“I have the best staff on the planet, bar none,” Gilmer added. “I’ve been doing this job for a long time because of the people I work with – they care passionately about children and about serving children in the best capacity that they can. This is a critical mission, and I’ve got folks who do the mission right and do it well – it’s my honor to work with them.”