Forty-five Coffee High School (CHS) seniors walked through the halls in their caps and gowns at Ambrose Elementary School on Wednesday, May 22. Some of the graduates had completed their secondary education at Wiregrass Regional College and Career Academy. But nearly all these young people had one thing in common: They were returning to their elementary school alma mater. These CHS seniors had been here before. And their return was a celebration.
Heather Day, the AES nurse, told DouglasNow that this was an opportunity for the graduating seniors to show the elementary school students what is possible. Ms. Day had ample reason to celebrate. Among the returning AES students was her son Adyson Day. He’s graduating from CHS this year.
Dr. Mary Vickers, the principal of AES, spoke with DouglasNow. Dr. Vickers said that this was the first year that young men and women who had attended AES were coming back to take part in the Senior Parade. The return to AES is part of a program of “student advocacy” begun by the Coffee County school board. The board requires that every child have a mentor. Each AES staff members has chosen at least one departing 5th-grader every year. Then every month as that child moves through the Coffee County school system, their AES mentor sends a note of encouragement along with a small gift or treat. The mentors have followed their kids through Coffee Middle School and CHS, communicating positive messages and sending tokens of appreciation and love.
Dr. Vickers said that CHS has been very cooperative in making sure that the notes and packages have found their intended recipients, helping the AES mentors build and maintain relationships with their student mentees. Dr. Vickers went on to say of the students, “It gives you such a good feeling seeing them out in the community at restaurants and stores.”
Yolanda Daniels is now an academic coach at Broxton-Mary Hayes Elementary, but eight years ago she taught at AES. She returned for the Senior Parade. Ms. Daniels told DouglasNow that, “... even though they’re gone, we continue to be in their lives”. Ms. Daniels has been a mentor to Hunter Pitts who is graduating from Irwin County High School, as well as several other students. Hunter couldn’t be at the Senior Parade because of graduation practice, but his mother Denise Pitts came to show her appreciation to Ms. Daniels and the rest of their AES family. Ms. Pitts spoke with DouglasNow and said that the passion of the AES teachers shows, and that they go above and beyond what is required to show the students that they care. Ms. Pitts said they really treat the children like family.
The CHS seniors walked the halls of AES and there was much laughter and many hugs and heartfelt tears. The seniors then took to the assembly hall stage for a photograph. First-grade teacher and show choir leader Ms. DeeJae Griffin then led the students in an impromptu performance of “Jesus, What a Wonderful Child.” It was a song she had taught them over eight years ago for their school Christmas program, but one they all remembered well.