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Back to School: Open houses come ahead of new academic year

By Staff | Aug 3, 2017

On Thursday, more than 95,000 students from the 114 Lee County schools will arrive at the schoolhouse gates for another school year.

Teachers returned to work this past Thursday at many schools for training and to get their classrooms ready for when students arrive. Bus drivers are also practicing their routes to be sure they get to the kids on time, and principals are running ragged, as they have for much of the summer, getting everyone on the same page.

For many students, that arrival will come Saturday, when many of the area’s schools will hold their open houses for new students and those who need an excuse to see their old friends.

There are exceptions. North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts held its orientation for sixth-graders Wednesday. Tonight at 5 p.m., Hancock Creek Elementary will hold its open house.

Maura Bennington, principal at Diplomat Middle School, the open houses are a great way for new students to get to know the school and their teachers.

“The kids get to grab their schedules, walk their classes. We want the seventh- and eighth-graders to come as well, but it’s important for the sixth-graders to come to meet their middle-school teachers. We don’t want them to be hesitant or nervous. We want them to feel at home because that first year can be a scary experience,” Bennington said.

Once the kids return to school, things will be a little different, especially for the middle schoolers.

On Thursday, students will be with their homeroom teachers all day and do activities. Friday will feature the introduction of the five-by-five block, which means students will attend their odd-numbered classes during odd-numbered days and even-numbered, well, you know. This schedule has been done at the high schools for several years.

Bennington said students will visit all 10 of their teachers Friday, with special bell times so kids can be with their teachers for about a half-hour. Class rotation will begin the following Monday.

Shelley Markgraf, Caloosa Elementary principal, said she hopes her students do just as well this year as last, when the school increased its grade from a “C” to an “A,” especially in reading, where the district will aid in getting more children up to speed.

“Our reading plan is going to be different. All our kids will be grouped and taught based on their levels. The district has given us a plan for each student,” Markgraf said. “For the 90-minute reading core they will go to a different teacher for level-specific instruction. We’re excited about that.”

At North Fort Myers High School, principal Debbie Diggs hopes her second year at the top goes smoothly. The school was named No. 104 among the most challenging high schools in the nation by U.S. News & World report and earned many regional, state and national accolades.

This year’s open house will also feature a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. to celebrate the installation of their first round of dedication bricks that NFMHS supporters have purchased to help raise funds to upgrade the lighting and sound in the auditorium.

Brad Branson, NFMHS class of ’76 and former NBA player, will do the dedication.

“The primary purpose is to have kids find their alpha home room, where they will get their schedule and let them practice what they will do on the first day,” Diggs said. “The students and parents will also get to meet their teachers. It’s getting everything in place to get kids ready for the first day so we can hit the ground running.”

North students will also get to rent their parking spaces and locker spots or purchase their PE uniform or locker. The school clubs and athletics will be camped out in the cafeteria.

As for the unusual start date, which is on a Thursday, School board member Mary Fischer said it was to allow schools to finish their mid-term exams in time for the start of the Christmas recess.

“It’s better for the kids because they take their final before break. Otherwise, they take their finals right after break and that doesn’t work for the kids,” Fischer said.

Fischer said all schools are working hard to be ready for that first day.

“The principals and staff have worked hard all summer to prepare. It looks like we’re organized, the teachers have done advanced training and their expectations have been set out,” Fischer said. “It’s all hands on deck. We have to be there for the new people who come to the district. Everybody is out there ready to roll.”

The Open House Schedule includes: (Visit page 10B for a full school year calendar.)


Hancock Creek Elementary, 5 p.m.


Caloosa Elementary, 9 a.m.

Littleton Elementary, 9:30 a.m.

Gulf Elementary, K, 3, 5, 10 a.m.

Patriot Elementary, 10 a.m.

North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts, 10:30 a.m.

Gulf Elementary, 1, 2, 4, ESE, 11:30 a.m.

J. Colin English Elementary, 1 p.m.

Tropic Isles Elementary, 1 p.m.


Diplomat Elementary, 4:30 p.m.

Trafalgar Elementary, 1-5, 5 p.m.


Bayshore Elementary 4 p.m.

Cape Elementary 4p.m.

Cafferata Elementary 4:30 p.m.

Skyline Elementary, 5 p.m.

Trafalgar Elementary, K, 5 p.m.