White Elementary School needed a revolving door at its entrance Friday to handle the steady stream of grandparents coming and going during lunchtime.
For the fourth year, students in pre-K through fifth grade celebrated Grandparents Day by inviting their maw maws and paw paws to have lunch with them at school.
Principal Amy Heater said she started the event so students could honor their elder family members, which she no longer has.
"I wanted to do something special because I miss my grandparents,” she said. “I don't have them anymore. And those are some good memories to have."
She also said the lunch allowed the school to recognize the importance of grandparents.
"I just felt like it was something that we needed to do to give back and welcome our grandparents and thank them for all the love and support that they give us each and every day,” she said. “Grandparents are just as important as parents. Normally we deal with the parents, but it's good to also deal with the grandparents."
Heater said the lunch gives her the opportunity to see grandparents who are new to the school.
“Some of them I know; some of them I don't know so that's been good to kind of talk to them and have that connection and put a face with a name," she said.
She also saw some familiar faces she’s known since her days as a third-grade teacher at White.
“Some of the grandparents that are coming in, I taught their kids or their kids were here when I was a teacher so it’s neat to see them come back,” she said, noting she’s been at White for 18 years. “The family tradition continues.”
One grandmother she met was “super-excited” when she found out the Grandparents Day lunch wasn’t the only time she could share a meal at school with her grandchildren.
“Some schools only let [grandparents] come in on particular days,” Heater said. “We don't. They can come anytime to eat lunch with their grandbaby. That made one of the grandmothers excited."
She added grandparents are allowed to bring in outside food when they visit as a treat for their grandkids.
Seeing the students’ reactions to having their grandmas and grandpas – or parents, who can fill in if grandparents are deceased or unable to attend – at school with them is what Heater enjoys most about the lunch.
"It's their faces,” she said. “Walking down the hall, they see their grandparents, and they jump and get excited. That's what makes my heart happy. It's just the emotion of getting to introduce their grandparents to their friends here at school that they don't normally get to see."
But on a few occasions, there also are some tears “because they want to go home with a grandparent, but they can't so we've had to deal with that sometimes, too," she added.
Last year’s event drew somewhere between 50 and 70 grandparents, but Heater said she expected the number to be much higher this year.
And they came from near – Cartersville and other Bartow locations – and far – Dalton, Ball Ground, even Knoxville, Tennessee.
Rick and Debra Herron left their home in Knoxville at 3 a.m. Friday and drove to Bartow County just to have lunch with their 6-year-old granddaughter, first-grader Kendall McDaniel, who’s the next-to-youngest out of eight grandkids ranging in age from 3 to 20.
"She said, 'Would you please come to Grandparents Day?'" Mrs. Herron, 61, said, noting she and her husband also came to the lunch last year. "I think it's really nice. We love it."
"I think it's great,” Herron, 63, said. “Grandparents ought to come be with them and show an interest in them."
But the lunch wasn’t the only thing Kendall, daughter of Dustin and Jennifer McDaniel of Cartersville, had in mind for her grandparents.
"She wanted us to be here to drop her off [at school] this morning, not just come for lunch, so we got to our daughter's at 7 a.m.,” Herron said. “So we left her house at 7:30 to come over here and drop her off."
Grandma and Poppy, who plan to keep coming to the lunch "as long as she will let us come," also treated Kendall to a Happy Meal.
"She wanted something from McDonald's,” Mrs. Herron said. “That's what grandparents do."
Kendall, who is very shy, nodded when asked if she was glad they were there and if she loved the Happy Meal.
Though the school has hosted the lunch for the past three years, this was the first time Jerry and Marjorie Cox of Woodstock had been able to attend.
“We’re normally at the beach,” Mrs. Cox, 69, said. “We always leave on Labor Day, and we miss it so this was a treat to be able to do that.”
This year, Gammy and Poppy were able to visit with both granddaughters – 8-year-old Arlington Blanton, a third-grader, and 5-year-old Ansley Blanton, a kindergartner, daughters of Alison and David Blanton of Cartersville – at the same time because their lunches overlapped.
“These babies are our lives,” Mrs. Cox said, tears streaming down her face. “We have five, and they’re all special in their own way so to get to do anything with any of them is a treat.”
Cox, 67, said he has been “under the weather, but I would not have missed” the lunch.
“This is my treat for today,” he said. “And to be able to say thank you to the principal, the teachers, the staff, just to say ‘thank you for what you do.’ We just simply appreciate the opportunity to be with the children and our grandchildren and also see the good times that other people are having as well and, as I said earlier, to thank the staff.”
White wasn’t the only school in Bartow County to host an event in honor of Grandparents Day.
The Parent Teacher Community Organization at Kingston Elementary is planning its first Grand Ball for grandparents and students on all grade levels Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. in the cafeteria.
“Our parent organization wanted to celebrate grandparents in a ‘grand’ fashion to recognize how much support our grandparents provide our students,” Principal Philena Johnson said. “For example, the leader of our parent organization is actually the grandparent of one of our students. Our parent group thought the ‘Once Upon a Time’ theme would be fun for both the children and grandparents. Everyone attending is welcome to dress up or dress as princes and princesses.”
On the agenda for the evening will be music and dancing, refreshments and photo opportunities, Johnson said. “We have asked the Cass High School Thespian Society to provide fairy tale princes and princesses to meet, greet and take photos with our families,” she said. “Our parent organization has also purchased an Eagle mascot for the school, and the mascot's name – chosen by the students – will be revealed at the ball as well.”
Everyone involved in planning the ball is “excited to have this event for our students and grandparents,” Johnson said.
“We appreciate our parent/teacher organization working to create a memorable event for our children and their families,” she said.
Other elementary schools also have planned events for Grandparents Day.
On Friday, Allatoona had a Grandparents Breakfast; Adairsville had a Grandparents Lunch; and the pre-K class at Cloverleaf hosted an ice cream party for the grandparents on the playground.
Emerson has planned a Grandparents Lunch, complete with cake, for Monday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and Pine Log will have its Grandparents Lunch Monday, Sept. 16.
Euharlee will spend the next few days inviting grandparents and “grandfriends” to the school for a special lunch and an opportunity to read or color with their grandkids after the meal.