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Project brings Cumming teachers, students together outside classroom
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CUMMING -- Schools, even if they are in the same district, tend to stay separate from one another and remain within their individual identities. That was not the case Thursday.

About 350 teachers from Forsyth Central High, Otwell Middle and Cumming Elementary schools gathered in Central’s gym July 28 for Project Connect, an annual teacher-student bonding program aimed to build relationships in the classroom.

Groups of four or five teachers took drawstring backpacks and either walked or drove to neighborhoods zoned in the Cumming feeder cluster, knocking on doors to deliver the items to their students.

“I love seeing they’re excited, and it’s getting to be time for school and that we actually care enough to come out to see them,” said Ginger Rodriguez, a third-year teacher at Central.

Rodriguez, who has taught in the Forsyth County Schools system for the last 20 years, said a successful relationship between a teacher and a student extends beyond the classroom.

“It’s more than just a teacher. It’s about being someone that they know they can trust,” she said. “This activity just kind of leads into that.”

She said taking the extra time out of their already hectic days helps prove teachers are there for their students.

“It lets them know that I care about them. That I’m not going anywhere. If I give them feedback, that is not because I’m criticizing them.

It’s because I’m trying to make them a better student. That I want that type of relationships and that’s what goes into it.

“That I want them to be the best student they can be and that I’m not just giving them a grade.”

Groups included teachers from each school who do not have the chance to interact otherwise throughout the busy school year.

“Are you ready to go to school?” asked Tom Tucker, band director at Central, as an elementary school-aged child opened the door.

The program covered about 400 houses and about 800 students, said Amy Gamez, a school social worker for the Cumming cluster.

“As a school social worker, I’m out in the community a lot. I’m engaged,” Gamez said. “Typically, the first thing kids ask me when I go out is, ‘Do you know my teacher?’ So part of what we want to do is get the teachers out where the kids are.”

Gamez said the program is exciting for both the teachers and the students.

“It’s just a fun way for them to get excited about school coming up next week,” she said. “It gets them engaged with school. They know they can talk to their teachers. They know they’re out there and that they care for them.”