Until you walk the grounds from end to end, it’s hard to realize just how big Denmark High School really is.
But it truly is a big school, taking up acres upon acres of classrooms, labs, athletic spaces, and newly planted greenery — the realization of a multi-year, multi-million dollar project by the Forsyth County school system and countless other partners.
This past Saturday, the work and preparation to create what has been called the “largest high school in the state” finally came to fruition at the school’s grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting. All afternoon, the people of Forsyth County got to walk the school grounds and explore Forsyth County’s newest and sixth traditional high school for themselves.
"It is my distinct pleasure to serve as the principal of the school that is named in honor of the legendary Dr. Leila Denmark," Denmark High School principal Heather Gordy said to the crowd gathered in school’s gym. "Being here today, and seeing the culmination of 18 months of hard work and decisions being made … it feels fabulous.”
Gordy said that after a year of preparations on her part, what really made the realness sink in was looking out at the crowd and seeing excited students ready to get started at the school.
"The fact that the kids in the community are excited about coming to Denmark High School and helping us to start traditions, we are very happy,” she said.
She explained that over the last few months, they have started noticing people in the community sporting Denmark Dane logo shirts and other apparel, and they see that as a good sign.
“It’s exciting to start to see our logo around Forsyth County," she said. “And just being able to come in here, welcome kids to this brand-new school that will be a legacy for them, is super-exciting."
According to Gordy, they have attempted to capture that legacy with the school motto of "the tradition begins with me,” and stressing the importance of school tradition and the relationship between a school and its community.
“We are embarking on the journey of building the relationships with over 1,300 students, their parents, their families, and really getting to know the teachers that we've hired. ... We will be working to build a Demark family,” she said.
After Gordy, Superintendent Jeff Bearden and Board of Education chair Ann Crow took turns at the microphone, thanking various people involved in the construction of Denmark. A procession of school officials lined up outside the school to pose for a ribbon cutting.
For the rest of the afternoon, a steady stream of people filtered in and out of the school looking into classrooms and looping the building to check out Denmark’s stadium, outdoor tennis courts, and large veterinary science complex.
While talking about the new and different options Denmark brings its community, Bearden stated that he believes it won't be long until the school makes it mark on the county — adding that the school has gotten off on the right foot, putting relationships first in the equation.
"The foundation is there for success,” Bearden said. “And all of that foundation is predicated on establishing really strong relationships with students, parents and community."
Bearden pointed to Denmark’s Veterinary Science Program as more proof of the changing landscape of education, stating that 10, 20, or 30 years previously, students would be hard pressed to find a veterinary program at the high school level anywhere in the region.
The Veterinary Science Program comprises stables, veterinary lab and an equestrian center at the back of the school. Bearden said students of the program will get a hands-on learning experience from a team of "home run hitters."
According to him, the program will be very hands-on and will give students the ability to actually work with animals to demonstrate what they have learned. He said this method nearly always yields positive results because kids stay engaged when they like what they are doing.
"When kids are applying what they know, not sitting and listening, but doing and applying the knowledge that they have learned, they retain more,” Bearden said. “It's more relevant to them, it’s more interesting to them, and they achieve at a higher level."
He added that the unique Denmark program will open the doors to new opportunities for not just Denmark students but also to students throughout the community.
If a student has a passion for something like the veterinary program that might not be at their home school, Bearden said they will try to make it happen for the student.
“We will open it up to students from throughout Forsyth County,” Bearden said. “So kids can apply to go here if they want to pursue veterinary science, even if they are out of the area, and I think that's awesome.”