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Coal Mountain Elementary plans carnival to celebrate 40th anniversary in north Forsyth community
Coal Mountain

Coal Mountain Elementary School is holding a free, family-friendly carnival on its campus from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, March 12, to celebrate the school’s 40th anniversary.

Decked out in an ‘80s carnival theme, the event will take place on Coal Mountain’s campus in north Forsyth where families and community members can take part in carnival games and win prizes.

Sponsored by local businesses, the event will also feature a variety of different food trucks for families to try out some snacks before cooling off with a sweet treat from Kona Ice. Music will be provided by D.J. Herrin.

In between games, families can also tour the school to see students’ work on display and a House of Gems painting representing the Coal Mountain Elementary community.

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Coal Mountain

Xylona Valentino, a Coal Mountain teacher helping to organize the event, said she, the staff and administration are excited to be hosting this carnival and celebrating the 40 years Coal Mountain Elementary has been serving students and the community in north Forsyth.

Located along Hwy. 369, Coal Mountain first opened in August 1981 to replace Coal Mountain School, a one-room schoolhouse that closed in 1955. And when the school opened, it created a strong community and traditions around it that still exist today.

This rich history is made apparent to visitors of the school as soon as they walk through the front doors and see three colorful quilts hanging on the wall.

“Each decade or so, we’ve had a couple of teachers in charge of having classrooms make different fabrics and squares of a quilt,” Instructional Technology Specialist Kelly Moore said. “That’s a big part of the history of Coal Mountain is seeing those as you’re going down the hall.”

There are currently three quilts hanging on the wall — made in the 1990s, 2000s and then 2010s. Now, EIP teacher Nancy Worley is working on a fourth to celebrate the anniversary and carry on this important tradition.

This year, however, school leaders wanted to do even more to help future generations remember Coal Mountain’s history and all the “miners” who have come through the halls of the school.

To do this, they introduced a Brick Legacy Program. Through the event or online, community members and families can pay $40 to buy a brick to honor their favorite “miner” and leave a lasting mark while supporting the school.

School leaders said the new legacy program is a great opportunity for alumni to come back to the school later, remember their time there and remember the youth who came before them.

Jennifer Turbeville, a music teacher and long-time community member, said she loves the idea. She went to Coal Mountain Elementary herself as a student and still remembers some of her favorite teachers from her time there.

She remembers attending Sawnee Elementary School up until her fourth-grade year when she was redistricted to Coal Mountain in 1981 when it opened. At that time, the school served grades one through six, the middle school served grades seven through nine and the county only had one high school — Forsyth Central.

Her principal at the time was Steve Benson, the same educator who hired her years later as a Coal Mountain teacher. Benson spent 20 years leading Coal Mountain Elementary, and he retired in 2001.

“I was at a Sonny’s restaurant in town, and he asked me if I still wanted to teach at Coal Mountain,” Turbeville said, laughing. “I said of course. This is my community.”

After starting her career at first teaching in Gainesville for five years, she went to Benson’s house during her spring break in 1999 and signed the contract. She was officially a teacher for Coal Mountain.

“I’ve been here ever since,” she said.

And Turbeville said she is not the only alumnus who has come back to the school to teach. Because of the school’s history and impact on the community, students find themselves wanting to come back to the school.

Since North Forsyth High School opened, the feeling of community and desire to come back has grown. Now, Coal Mountain shares a campus with both North Forsyth High and North Forsyth Middle schools.

“We’re very fortunate to be on the same campus with the middle and high because we can kind of keep in touch with those kids a bit longer,” Moore said. “We’ve watched all of these families go all the way through.”

Today, Turbeville said she teaches some of her former students’ children. It’s exciting for many of the teachers to not only be able to keep in touch with former students but also see as they grow up and have families of their own.

The staff and administrators over the years have grown close to each other, the community and the families who all come through each of the three schools on campus. In this way, they said Coal Mountain is much more than just a school.

“We feel like a family here,” Turbeville said.

While the community has grown exponentially and will continue to change over the years, school leaders and teachers believe Coal Mountain’s impact on the community will always remain, and they hope to celebrate many more anniversaries with future "miners."

For more information about Coal Mountain or the 40th-anniversary event, visit the school’s website at