Berry students return to renovated media center, notes of encouragement

HOOVER – Eighth grader Ellie Knippers has already been through her share of first days of school but still felt the excitement of the beginning of a new academic year at Berry Middle School on Wednesday, Aug. 9.

“I’m excited about seeing friends that I haven’t seen over the summer and to get a fresh start,” Knippers said.

Though the image of the first day of school may be a wide-eyed kindergartener experiencing everything from classmates to lunch lines for the first time, the beginning of a new year is an important time at all schools.

Knippers, one of about 1,175 students in grades 6-8 attending Berry this year, said she is perhaps most excited about her family living/stitch and design class.

Others at the school may be looking forward to using Berry’s renovated media center, Principal Chris Robbins said.

The center had not been updated since the school was built in 2004 but over the summer received new carpet, paint and furniture.

The BMS media center has been outfitted with innovation spaces that will supplement classroom learning by offering technology and facilitating presentations and collaboration.

“We’ll let teachers’ imaginations take over (for how the space can be utilized),” Robbins said.

Also new at Berry Middle are hundreds of notes of encouragement to students written by teachers during professional development time before the students arrived on campus.

Messages including “You’re the best!” and “Get ready for the best year ever!” were written in languages spoken by faculty members including English, Arabic, French and Spanish, and posted around the school.

Berry students represent about 50 different countries and speak 28 different languages, Robbins said.

“We consider our diversity to be a real strength of the school,” Robbins said.

Another strength is the faculty and staff, according to the principal.

Students and teachers are split into four teams at each grade level.

Teachers for Team 7-1 (seventh grade team 1)—Paula Brooks for language arts, Allison Rice for social studies, Ellie Pasqualini for science and Josh Whitt for math—have been together for 11 years.

The teachers said each new year offers a new beginning.

“It’s a unique profession in that you get a fresh start every year,” Rice said.

Preparation makes the first day less stressful, the teachers said.

“We feel so well prepared that you don’t start a school year worried about what to expect,” Brooks said.

“It’s been amazing today because the kids have come in with such great attitudes,” Pasqualini said.

“We want our kids to be comfortable right out of the gate,” Whitt added. “It’s fun. Call us crazy, but it’s fun.”

Berry Middle School faculty and staff make students feel safe and important, laying the groundwork for the school year, Robbins said.

“They have a heart for middle school students,” he said. “It’s an honor to get to lead this group. They’re phenomenal.”

Students can help also.

Knippers offered some advice for new middle schoolers: “Know your schedule and study because if you don’t, you’ll fall way behind. And meet people and make new friends so that you’ll have new experiences.”