Motorists heading down Tribble Gap Road Thursday late morning may have seen the sidewalks overtaken by adults adorning one of three T-shirts, carrying armfuls of drawstring bags with school logos.
The entire teaching staff from Cumming Elementary, Otwell Middle and Forsyth Central High schools met for the fourth annual Project Connect to deliver bags of school supplies to students in about 400 homes as a way to jump-start the school year and build a bond between child and teacher.
“I just feel like we are a family here. And I do feel like the three schools … and the other schools that feed into here are kind of like the heart of Forsyth,” said Amy Gamez, a school social worker for the Cumming-Otwell cluster. “We help each other. We support each other, and I feel like it’s kind of a family environment.”
Delivering the bags served two purposes. It provided students with basic school supplies in homes where many families struggle to afford school costs, but it also brings teachers and students together outside of the classroom.
“It’s really about making that connection. They feel the teachers care. They feel valued. They know they took time out of their day to meet them where they are,” Gamez said.
Greg Walkup leads the apprenticeship/honors mentorship program at Central, and he said Project Connect furthers the idea he tries to instill in his students, who complete externships at businesses throughout Forsyth County during the year.
“What I tell my students who want to be teachers, if you want to be an effective teacher, you’ve got to go beyond the four walls of the classroom,” he said as he walked with his group of teachers from all three schools down 12th Street, bags in tow. “If you don’t know the kids coming in the door each day … My job is to teach the standards, but sometimes what they need is just a hug that day, or encouragement or some wisdom.”
Walkup said the event is “brilliant” because it also connects teachers to the parents.
“School can be intimidating. Maybe they didn’t finish, but if they see if come to their house, maybe they’ll be more likely to come to that parent-teacher conference or help work on things at home.”
Another teacher in Walkup’s group looked through the list of students they would be delivering bags to and noticed one name.
“I had her in first grade, and now she’s about to be in ninth,” she said.
“Students know that teachers care and support them,” Gamez said, “not only at school, but at home, too.”