Bring Your Legislator to School

November Is Take Your Legislator to School Month
Posted on 11/22/2022

November Is Take Your Legislator to School Month: Suffolk Public Schools Discusses Capital Improvement Needs for Elephant’s Fork Elementary with Local Dignitaries and City Officials   

On Wednesday, November 9, the Suffolk Public School Board invited local dignitaries to participate in the 2022 Virginia School Board Association's Take Your Legislator to School Month by visiting Elephant's Fork Elementary. Guests included the Suffolk School Board members, Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck, Board Chair, Mrs. Heather Howell (Sleepy Hole Borough), Mrs. Karen Jenkins (Cypress Borough), and Mrs. Lorita Mayo (Holy Neck Borough), City of Suffolk Mayor Mike Duman, Vice-Mayor Leroy Bennett, Virginia Delegate Clinton Jenkins, and councilman Tim Johnson.

Through this event, board members and city officials visited classrooms and engaged with students. They also took note of specific areas in and around the building that need improvements, such as traffic concerns,  the school's outdoor mobile units, which serve as classrooms for fourth and fifth-grade students, and the limited restroom facilities.

One area of concern during the tour was the main hallway restrooms. "I have 599 students in my building," said Elephant's Fork Principal Dana Cherry Bilby. "Kindergarten, First and Second-Grade, have restrooms in their hall. However, Third, Fourth, and Fifth-Grade, which make up half of my school's population, have to use the restrooms in the main hallway." Teachers also use the main hallway area to transition students to and from their resource classes. "To avoid multiple classes in the main hallway gathering at once to use the same two restrooms, we had to develop a strategic bathroom schedule," stated Bilby. The rotating bathroom schedule is crucial for students in the outdoor mobile units.

Each outdoor unit (4th and 5th grade classrooms) has one building key assigned to that unit for use when a student has to enter the main building for any reason. Students in the outdoor units can use the building key to use the restroom. However, because there is only one key, restroom use is restricted to only one student. It would take one student between 5-10 minutes, including walking to the building, waiting at the facility, and returning to the mobile unit - all is longer in inclement weather.

Children commute from their outdoor classrooms to the buildings for restroom breaks, lunch breaks, school assemblies, and any other function or activity held inside. During certain times of the year, they walk through the rain or cold weather. When the entire class pauses for a restroom break, instructional time is interrupted for all students.

As board members and city officials continued around the building, administrators shared that traffic is another concern for Elephant's Fork Elementary School. "Parents start lining up to pick up their students as early as 2:30 p.m.," said Principal Bilby. "By 3:40 p.m., the line is backed up to Godwin Boulevard." There is only one way in and out of the EFES school campus. Buses entering the school grounds at dismissal must drive on the opposite side of the road, so traffic exiting the school must be stopped to avoid a head-on collision. Principal Bilby, her Assistant Principal, and the building Safety Monitor often find themselves directing traffic, which presents a dangerous situation for herself and her staff. Traffic is also typically backed up in the mornings during parent drop-off. 

While there is an area for improvement, the staff at Elephant's Elementary has done a fantastic job using the available resources to meet their students' needs. The classroom visits captured teachers actively engaging their students in various lessons. Children were eager to participate and to answer questions when asked. Elephant's Fork is also one of the eleven elementary schools in our Suffolk School district to receive a book vending machine. These machines allow students to continue a progressive interest in reading. 

After the guided tour, visitors reconvened in the school's media center to provide feedback. Mayor Mike Duman stated that the City Council realizes how important education is and how important it is to prepare our children for the future. "We are willing to do the best we can with what we've got," stated the City Mayor. Suffolk School Board Chair D. Judith Brooks-Buck said, "Our role as school board members is to advocate for this school system and this city," and "Mobile units were intended to be a temporary solution, not a permanent fix to [the] problem."

Vice-Mayor Leroy Bennett shared his concern about the limited restrooms available. "We can't do everything at one time, but we can definitely set priorities," he said. Councilman Tim Johnson also chimed in to say that he had no idea that Elephant's Fork Elementary School was a 50-year-old building and that it was time for teachers to "get facilities that they can be proud of." 

Students at Elephant's Fork Elementary continue to thrive and to learn and grow academically, socially, and emotionally.

About Suffolk Public Schools

Suffolk Public Schools is a public school division located in Suffolk, Virginia. The school division has 21 learning facilities with a student population of over 14,000 students.