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Kindergarten signing day: A back-to-school first for Edgecombe

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There are no college ball coaches or streamers, no ESPN cameras broadcasting the announcement or mobs of fans awaiting a decision. But there are cheerleaders and about 25 students at Coker-Wimberly Elementary School ready to make an important pledge. 

When athletes sign a National Letter of Intent, which is a binding agreement between a prospective student-athlete and a college or university, they commit to attend and play sports at that institution. It’s an important decision. But at Coker-Wimberly, the school wants kindergartners to know their commitment to education is just as important.

“I’ve never been to a kindergarten signing day,” Edgecombe County Board of Education member Lillie Worsley said. “This is their first, and they’re making history. And they’re propelling kids forward to 2036. This is a great example, full of that great back-to-school energy.”

The school invited parents, district leaders, and community partners last week to attend its first annual kindergarten signing day, to cap the first week of school in Edgecombe County. Two-by-two, students walked up to tables set up at the front of the school’s auditorium, sat down and traced their first names on letters to commemorate a very important commitment — to grow. 

The district’s new superintendent, Andy Bryan, attended on his first official day on the job. He was joined by district staff, three members of the board of education, and community partners, including the Down East Partnership for Children

“This is an incredible message they’re sending to kindergartners,” Bryan said. 

Coker-Wimberly, in the Battleboro and Leggett communities, is part of the Innovation Zone on the north side of the county, partnering in innovation with its feeder schools, Phillips Middle and North Edgecombe High School as part of a national Opportunity Culture movement. The goal is focusing on high growth and higher-order thinking skills for all students.  

The school is in the midst of a turnaround. According to the state’s framework for measuring school performance, it was an F school, failing to meet growth in 2016 and 2017, and an F school meeting growth in 2018.

In 2019, the school began work under an Innovative Partnership Grant. The goal of the grant, which is now in its final year, is to ensure all students have the academic and social-emotional skills necessary to succeed in middle school, high school, and higher education, and to become the architects of their own lives.

In 2019 the school became a D school, and it has met growth for the past three years. This year, with state performance measures set for release on Wednesday, the school is expecting more improvement. 

What are its keys to success? According to the new principal, Cassandra Harley, it’s impressing upon students the importance of education, keeping them excited throughout the journey, and making sure families know the lengths that educators are ready to go in helping their students grow. 

That’s what the kindergarten signing day was all about.

“We make a big deal when it comes to our athletes with their signing days, so why not start this journey with our kindergartners – giving them this big push,” Harley said. “This day signifies your commitment to Edgecombe County, to Coker-Wimberly, and to education. And, families, we want to let you know that we’re here all the way. Our end goal is to make sure they feel safe, they feel loved, and they get the education they need right here at Coker-Wimberly.”

Rupen Fofaria

Rupen Fofaria was the equity and learning differences reporter for EducationNC from 2018 through October 2023.