LUMBERTON — More than 3,000 teachers and administrators were met with cheers and applause Wednesday when they walked through the front doors of Lumberton High School.
The welcoming reception was part of a two-day Opening Day program held for all who contribute to the Public Schools of Robeson County. This year’s theme was Everyday Heroes. Each person who entered received a medal for his or her dedication to students.
“Thank you for what you’re going to do to make the Public Schools of Robeson County the best it can be,” school board Chairman Mike Smith told the members of the crowd that filled the school’s auditorium. “I challenge you to be the switch and turn on the light to every child.”
The program featured keynote speakers Judge Herbert Richardson, who spoke Tuesday, and Atoinette Tuff, who spoke Wednesday.
“Everyone of you here today are everyday heroes in your own unique way,” Tuff said.
Each school’s personnel entered Lumberton High as a unified group. The staff and teachers of each school were dressed in matching T-shirts that displayed their school’s name.
Some teachers and staff were spotlighted for their good deeds.
One of those was Virginia Carol Hunt, an educator at Shining Stars Preschool in Pembroke. The school was severely damaged by floodwaters generated by Hurricane Matthew after it roared through Robeson County in October 2016. Hunt came out to the school with her family and removed all of the damaged materials and debris in the school. She also was responsible for obtaining new buses for the school, personally driving out of state to get one.
“Shining Stars Academy, for 21 years, has been my life,” Hunt said. “I want to thank the Public Schools of Robeson County for giving me the opportunity.”
The Public Schools of Robeson County Ensemble, which consists of students and teachers, entertained the crowd with songs celebrating heroes seen in all walks of life. The songs included “One Call Away” by Charlie Puth and a playful rendition of “Everyday People” by Sly & The Family Stone.
Wednesday’s program took a serious turn when keynote speaker Tuff shared her experience in dealing with an active shooter on campus just eight months after the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The former school bookkeeper spoke about how she became an “accidental hostage negotiator” on Aug. 20, 2013, when Michael Brandon Hill walked into Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., and opened fire.
“Each and every one of you here today is on the front line,” Tuff said. “Very few people realize how quickly a routine situation can turn deadly. We’ve got to realize all moments are subject to change.”
Tuff also spoke about how stressful incidents in their everyday life can be leveraged as an asset when dealing with difficult interpersonal relationships, heated customer interactions, or if they find a gun pointed in their direction. She offered crisis management techniques that she called “Tuff Tactics.”
These tactics include cautious compassion, clever confidence and claiming control.
“Use judgment. Don’t pass judgment,” Tuff said. “You have to show the child unconditional love.”
Schools across the county will be holding Open Houses on Thursday. The times for each school are listed on the Public Schools of Robeson County website. The school year starts Monday for students.
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected] or 910-416-5865.