Wednesday, Aug. 10, marked the first-ever day of school at Hamlin Middle School, and the day went relatively smoothly, Dr. Suzanne Knight, principal, said.
“The parents have been great,” she said. “It was heartwarming watching the parents with their kids. It made me smile.”
Sixth-graders gathered in the cafeteria, and seventh- and eighth-graders waited in the gymnasium until the first bell sounded.
Knight was excited to introduce students to the concession stand by the gym, which will sell breakfast each morning.
Students were eager to start classes in their new school, and teachers decorated their rooms with welcoming touches.
Among those educators were Valeria Montes and her mother, Janet Carrasquillo, who both teach Spanish at the high school and middle school levels.
Carrasquillo taught at Dr. Phillips High School when Knight was principal, and Montes moved up to middle school from the elementary level. This is the first time they have taught together, and their rooms are side by side — and decorated with Spanish words and phrases, as well as travel photos and pictures of famous Hispanics.
Between classes, the principal directed dozens of students to the right hallways and classes.
Being able to dedicate an entire wing to visual and performing arts is a bonus, she said.
“We try to mirror as many electives as possible that were at Bridgewater and SunRidge (middle schools),” Knight said.
The new school design includes all classrooms and hallways inside the facility, a safety feature Knight is pleased to see at Hamlin.
“To have a campus that’s fully enclosed is exciting,” she said. “(We have) secure perimeters, so once you’re in, you’re in.”
On the first day, there were some scheduling mishaps and a few hiccups regarding the elementary school drop-off, but Knight said those were quickly resolved.
The biggest issue was with transportation, Knight said, but this is a countywide problem and not limited to the new school.
Hamlin Middle, located at 16025 Silver Grove Blvd., Winter Garden, was built to relieve overcrowding at Bridgewater and SunRidge middle schools. Because Bridgewater lost about 500 students, staff members lost their positions, too. Knight said she hired seven teachers and support staff members from Bridgewater and nine came with her from Dr. Phillips High.
Knight said she is grateful for the opportunity to be back at the middle school level after eight years leading Dr. Phillips High. She also has 22 years of experience at the middle school level. This is her 35th year with Orange County Public Schools.
“I forgot how fun it was being in middle school,” she said.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.