All families made to feel welcome at Cooleemee Elementary

Published 2:24 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2024

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By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

Brenda Torres remembers fondly her years as a student at Cooleemee Elementary School. But since her parents didn’t speak English, there were communication difficulties at times.

Jennifer Granadero-Trejo is a product of Davie County Schools, as well. A first generation American, her parents moved here from Mexico in the 1990s, so she also knows the difficulties families can face moving to another country.

Now, they’re both employees at Cooleemee Elementary School; Brenda greets visitors at the front desk; Jennifer is the English language learner teacher.

“I’ve always liked the teachers here,” Brenda said. She should know, she spent her elementary years at Cooleemee. “I enjoyed my time here, the teachers were always nice and there for you.”

Being nice is part of her job, one that comes natural to Brenda. She smiles quickly, and greets warmly.

In addition to being the first person visitors see in the school building, she is responsible for checking their IDs, giving them name tags and sending them in the right direction. She simitanously answers the telephone. If the nurse is not available, she helps give medicine to students. She pretty much knows where everyone is in the school at certain times.

Those are normal duties of the front-office, but her job goes well beyond that. She makes telephone calls for teachers to parents who don’t understand English. She makes printouts for the Spanish-speaking families. She greets those same families at school events, making them feel at ease with where their children spend their days.

It helps that her parents are well-known and respected in the Hispanic community, she said.

“My parents don’t speak English, so for me, it was difficult in school. Now, I’m glad I’m able to help the parents when there was noone to help my parents.

“Parents will ask me for help with speaking with a teacher or the principal. It makes me feel really special,” she said.

Brenda is a 2021 graduate of Davie County Early College, and earned an associate degree in business administration/office management from Surry Community College.

She lives five minutes from the school, and looks forward to coming to work every day.

“Just seeing the kids makes it worth it. They are tons of fun,” she said. “One student asked me, ‘Are you the principal?”, and I said, ‘No, I’m just a helper’.”

It’s her first year in the job, but one she hopes to keep for a long time.

Jennifer came back to Davie schools in a roundabout way.

She grew up in Davie County, went to Yadkin County schools for elementary grades, graduated from South Davie Middle and Davie Early College. She then earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Appalachian State University. During that time, she taught an internship at Cornatzer Elementary.

It’s her second year at Cooleemee after teaching third grade for a year in Alaska, where her and a friend moved for a year as Covid began. “But I always knew I wanted to come back to Davie County Schools,” she said.

And she loves each of her 57 English language learners. “They’re all good and I’m excited to work with them. We just work on reading. I really enjoy working with the younger kids, helping them succeed academically and socially.”

She understands some of their difficulties. Things as simple as a fire drill can be frightening, to the kids and to their parents when they go home and tell them.

“I’ve tried to establish a relationship with the families, with the community,” she said. “I try to help them feel more involved with the school. Me and Ms. Torres are a real help to them.

“The parents, they just want what’s best for their children – to do good in school and be good people. That’s what all parents want.”

Unlike the small village where she worked in Alaska, Cooleemee is still a school supported by the community, she said.

“I can see myself doing this here for a long time,” she said.