Today school is back in session throughout Newton County, and another year of high hopes is under way. This morning, approximately 19,000 students made their way to one of the district's 21 schools.
On Tuesday, before one bell had a chance to ring, a small group of parents and children gathered at Cathelene Perry's home in Covington to prepare for the 2008-2009 school year.
For the past four years, Perry, a youth advisor for the Newton Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has held a back-to-school social in hopes of bringing families together before the first day of school.
There is always plenty of food and good times at Perry's back-to-school gatherings. She hands out bags of school supplies and children enjoy eating cotton candy and ice cream from a mobile concession stand. Above all, the gathering is an opportunity for adults to talk with children about the upcoming school year.
"We want you all to have the right frame of mind when you go back to school on Friday," said Rock Springs Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Jimmy Hall to the group of children and parents. "Your attitude determines your altitude."
Both Hall and fellow pastor Terry Shepherd, who heads the congregation at New Vision Baptist Church in Covington, spoke to the children about their interaction with teachers in school and the importance of earning the respect of adults and classmates.
Hall believes children and parents want to do the right things but many times, groups and peer pressure interfere with good judgment and children make mistakes that can ultimately cost them.
"What brought me out is concern for our youth today and their attitude for school and towards teachers," Hall said. "We want to encourage our children and we want them to do better. We want to motivate them in the right way and talk to them about having a positive attitude toward education."
Shepherd, who served in the Navy prior to becoming pastor at Vision Baptist, knows first hand about the importance of discipline. He said it's a problem when children speak out against educators and administrators and wants to help youngsters understand the proper way of communicating at school.
"I think peer pressure and the need to fit into a particular group is the primary reason some kids act out," Shepherd said. "Many of our young people that don't have a positive role model and good family home training, many times they fall into pitfalls and get into the wrong crowds because they haven't been taught what is important."
Both Hall and Shepherd know children who constantly struggle with discipline can very quickly find themselves in a deep hole in school.
"When you get too angry that you want to destroy, you need to go somewhere and get quiet time so you don't do something you'll regret," Hall said. "Kids nowadays seem like they get angry so quick, so we as adults have to share with them and tell them, it's only temporary."
Perry works with children from the community in hopes of providing support for those in need of stability. In this case, Perry was able to secure donations to be able to provide all the children with a bag of school supplies, which she said many families can't afford.
More than the good food and goodie bags, Perry hopes the children will come together and learn from what the adults have to say.
"I want the kids to learn how to have fellowship and act together and support each other," Perry said. "I hope this gathering will inspire them to become good role models and they make something out of themselves."