Lots of laughter, soaked clothes and honking buses with little hands waving goodbye from wet windows set the mood Wednesday at T.C. Martin Elementary School in Bryantown, as students and staff celebrated the last day of school with impromptu water fights, a fun tradition that is carried out during dismissal.
The excitement could literally be felt in the air as individuals were drenched by squirts of water, some larger than others, blasted from atop the roof or within close proximity on the ground. Most staff got an advantage when bus drivers slowly pulled off with the windows rolled down, adding more amusement for dozens of kids who screamed and covered their smiling faces.
“We are rich in tradition and this year was not an exception to it. We had our faculty-student water battles and everyone really enjoyed it,” school vice principal Jacqueline Couvillon said. “It’s a special moment when the buses are dismissed with a water shower and good wishes. We try to get bubbles, too, but it’s a little hard to get them in the water hoses and soakers at the same time. It just makes me light up inside and is really exciting. It feels sort of like when the firecrackers go off on the Fourth of July.”
Having successfully completed another school year, Couvillon said it’s an added bonus to share the joy with students and celebrate their accomplishments.
“We’ve got a whole trophy case full of awards from different competitions that the children have participated in. They have grown in so many ways,” she said. “We have an endless list of honor students that have shown what they learned, which I think is really important. We’ve also welcomed new students this year and made them feel like part of the T.C. Martin family by getting them accustomed to the norms of what it means to be a Tiger. I always say once a Tiger, always a Tiger.”
When it comes to being a Tiger, Couvillon explained that students must be respectful, responsible and always ready to learn. These are the rules of life that should be “ingrained and developed” in their heart, she said, as good manners “will go a long way.”
“I enjoy the kids and love watching them,” said Susie Morgan, a retired government worker turned longtime school volunteer who was one of the first recipients of Charles County Public Schools’ “Be the Difference” awards program launched last year. “I think it’s fun and most of them call me granny because four of my grandkids had went here. A couple of other schools have asked me to come work for them and I did try. But they didn’t keep me busy as much as the great staff have kept me busy here. It just works out nicely and keeps me active — I really enjoy being here.”
Minette Bouton of Hughesville, who is president of the school’s PTSO, said she loves volunteering her time at T.C. Martin just as much. The PTSO’s goals for next year include raising money for picnic tables and the installation of rubber playground mats, as well as creating an outside classroom experience for students.
“I love coming up here and volunteering my time. There’s really nothing better,” Carter said. “There are kids, whose names I don’t know, that see me all the time and give me a hug. Just giving them a little bit of happiness is the best feeling in the world. I wouldn’t do anything else, honestly.”
Bouton said the staff at T.C. Martin have helped her in more ways than one. She is most impressed with the positive change in her twin daughters as both of them were able to overcome social barriers and develop a new sense of school pride.
“Their confidence has boosted for sure. One of my twins was really shy but now she’s involved in so many different clubs and activities. She just won a Terrific Tiger award,” Carter said. “The school has somehow pulled out this caring attitude. The other twin is still kind of learning her place in the world but she loves this school and is so attached to her teachers. They’re good kids.”
Science teacher Luckett Emory, a T.C. Martin alumnus who attended the school from 1979-1981, said working there is fun because of support from a good community. He looks forward to starting over again next year with new students and tweaking the curriculum to make it better.
“It’s fun and a great place to get hands-on experience,” he said. “We do so many things with life cycles, food chains and things like that. We were one of the first schools [to receive a Tower Garden aeroponic growing system] and have fed about 110 fifth-grade students and even staff one time with the food that grew on it. The children loved it so much because it was so fresh and good, and they took ownership by helping to raise and learn about it as part of the lesson.”
Wednesday marked the 34th time that principal Robert Opiekun has reminisced about a successful school year at T.C. Martin. Although he was sad to see the students go, the bittersweet experience is something that Opiekun said he cherishes every year as new beginnings await.
“It’s bittersweet. We’re so excited for the students because they looked forward to this day and feel like it’s a new awakening for them to have some fun during the summer,” Opiekun said. “I’ve gone through 34 of these, much as a teacher and the last 25 as an administrator, and it always makes me sad when the school building is empty. It almost feels cavernous to me without little voices and feet all over the place.”
In terms of honoring the school system’s ‘be kind’ motto, Opiekun said students are allowed to give compliments to each other which is reiterated during the morning school announcements. The Tigers even participate in various activities and classroom projects that encourage spreading kindness.
“We put a lot of time and effort into that because when kids are kind to each other, you have a more free atmosphere,” Opiekun explained. “Children are willing to take risks. They’re willing to make mistakes. They’re willing to work in cooperative groups. So, it really is time well spent.”