Here We Grow
The opening of Town Creek Middle School this fall didn’t go as planned due to COVID-19, but the new school is already well on its way to building strong community connections.
Dr. Jonathan DeBerry opens the front door to greet his students at Town Creek Middle School. With a slight bow and a swoop of his arm, he says, “Welcome to our band of coyotes.”
The principal and his team have planned for this very moment for months, and while the pandemic has since shifted the initial plans for the school opening, the goal remains the same.
“We are building a culture,” he says. “From our very first day we want to build relationships between our staff and students as well as the extended community.”
Building a culture also includes planning a brief ceremony at the beginning of each year in which new students will walk across the stage to accept a memento from the staff.
“When the eighth graders leave at the end of the year, we will reverse the pattern and send them off with their last memento from Town Creek Middle,” DeBerry says.
Assistant Principal Sonya Oates is on board with the plan.
My role is to help make the school culture positive so that students and staff feel safe,” she says.
Oates also believes that learning is at the forefront because school culture can affect student achievement. She followed her students here from Leland Middle School. “Part of my job is to promote all the wonderful learning and opportunities that our school has to offer, so families will always remember how they felt when they walked into the school,” she says.
Oates says that as a new school, they have the opportunity to shape their beliefs, traditions, attitudes and relationships the way we want them.
“We must build our core values as well as create conversations and laughter in the hallways, which will empower us to achieve high standards and ensure the success of all students,” she says.
As for the extended community, DeBerry says they are planning events in which residents can join the principal and other staff members as they walk around the track at Town Creek Park. “This will provide an opportunity for informal discussions about our school,” DeBerry says. Plans for an athletic booster club and Parent Teacher Organization are also in the works.
Town Creek Middle School is the 20th school in Brunswick County. Breaking ground in 2018, the district had included the design and construction in the $152 million construction bond that voters approved in 2016. The nearly 93,000-square-foot building on Lake Park Drive in Winnabow shares a campus with Town Creek Elementary.
“As we were finalizing construction, we added a cover to the walkway that connects the two buildings, signaling our connection,” DeBerry says. “We are extremely grateful to our board for making that last-minute approval and being so very supportive every step of the way.”
The custom-designed building has a central hallway flanked by the administration suite, gymnasium, media center and cafeteria. The choral, band and visual arts rooms are just around the corner from the gym in the academic wing.
The gymnasium includes state-of-the art lighting and sound, a full stage across from pull-out, bleacher-style seating, and locker rooms with energy-efficient lighting. There is a custom, mobile sound system as well. “This space will of course be used for sports but also for music and theater productions,” DeBerry says. There is ADA seating for wheelchairs, and a lift for wheelchair access to the stage.
The cafeteria has a bank of energy-efficient windows overlooking a green space, where students can gather or play soccer and Frisbee. “We want students to have some freedom during their lunch periods, so flexible outdoor seating is a perfect option,” DeBerry says.
Town Creek Middle’s two-story, L-shaped academic wing houses the 6th grade hallway on the ground floor, which shares space with the Exceptional Children’s’ resource rooms. Upstairs, the 7th and 8th grade hallways include additional resource rooms and a satellite office for the assistant principal. “Mrs. Oates will spend a lot of her time here,” DeBerry says with a laugh.
If it were up to Oates, she would spend her time in the media center — her favorite room in the school “From the seating to the carpets to the windows and the beautiful, vibrant school colors of vast sky blue, mannered gold and indigo — who wouldn’t want to go to our library?” she says. Even the tables are innovative as they’re designed to be written on with erasable markers. “I enjoy reading and believe the media center should be a place for students to be creative and collaborate and our library is just that,” Oates adds.
Unique to the building is an innovative maker space adjacent to the media center. “We are providing research-based curriculum, and project-based learning is at the forefront of that research for adolescents,” DeBerry says. “We are excited to offer this resource to our students.”
The maker space includes a 3-D printer, sewing machines and consumables for student work.
The campus does not include a sports field, but it is adjacent to Town Creek Park, and an access road was added during construction. All field sports will be played there, and the athletes will be transported via activity buses.
The school was designed for 550 students, and there are 341 students registered for the inaugural 2020–21 academic year.
“With thoughtful redistricting, we have students coming from Belville, Bolivia and Lincoln Elementary, as well as Leland and South Brunswick Middle,” DeBerry says. “After this year, our traditional feeder schools will be Bolivia and Town Creek Elementary Schools and we will feed into both North and South Brunswick High Schools.”
With the current rate of growth in the county, the district expects the school to be at capacity within two years.
A Hamlet native, DeBerry joined Brunswick County Schools in 2009 and took the helm of Town Creek Middle last year to coordinate the staffing, interior finishes and cultural details like the school colors, mascot and logos. They decided on three logos, the centerpiece of which is located at half court on the gym floor. “The coyote paw is in the shape of Brunswick County,” DeBerry says.
Attention to details like this are how DeBerry and his team make community connections. Other connections already exist among the staff and the students. His staff includes 22 teachers, and like Oates, many of them followed their students from other schools.
“We were so fortunate that many of our teachers transferred to Town Creek Middle,” he says. “Building relationships has already begun.”
For more information:
Brunswick County Schools – bcswan.net
Town Creek Middle School – (910) 253-9501
Photography by Bill Ritenour