SYLACAUGA, Ala. – When you walk on campus at Indian Valley Elementary School, it hits you: this is where a foundation for education is laid.

“There are a lot of things we do really well at school,” said principal Monte Abner. “One of the things I am most proud of is the relationships we have established with families and with children here at Indian Valley.”

It is because of those relationships, Abner said, students excel at Indian Valley.

“These relationships are completely amazing. It’s a great joy to see parents and children excited about coming to school. Parents are excited about meeting the teachers. I think that’s important about building those healthy relationships with the community,” said Abner.

The 37-year-old principal has been at the elementary school since 2013. Prior to his duties as the head of school, he served as a high school teacher for nearly a decade.

If there is one thing Mr. Abner wants to educate students about, it’s reading. He said without it, students will be lost later in life. He implemented Early Literacy Groups, or ELG, to help close the gap on children who do not know how to read by the second grade.

“This has worked wonderfully,” he said, citing data. “[It has] increased reading proficiency, ability, and confidence. We see they are more confident about reading and being involved in school.”

But Abner is not stopping at the ELGs when it comes to illiteracy. Last year, he began the Lunch Buddy Reading Program, organized by Elizabeth Hudson, where community members volunteer their time for 30 minutes to an hour each week for a month to read to students.

“Oh man, this has been amazing. This year, the type of support we have received from the community has been such a blessing,” said Abner. He said the calendar filling up with nowhere to place them. “We welcome that challenge. It shows the beauty of our country and the beauty of our community,” said Abner.

The school has also released a new initiative: Books in Barber Shops. Abner said the goal is to put books everywhere.

“[It] helps us raise a literate citizen.” He said teachers and the community jumped on board at the opportunity to help.

Although reading is very important to Abner and teachers at the school, a culture of engaged learning has been created beyond the books…

Even, engagement beyond the classroom.

“[The sign] says ‘a friend in need is a friend in need,'” said first grade teacher Melanie Heath. The 21-year veteran teacher said the school’s food pantry has been a major success helping impoverished students.

“Mr. Abner saw a need,” said Heath. She said the teachers emptied a closet and loaded it up with food. Alabama Childhood Food Solutions helps feed kids at Indian Valley, but teachers wante to help just a little more. Heath hopes to start a clothes closet soon.

Beyond helping students, Heath said the relationships she has with other teachers is unlike any other. Soon, Heath and her husband will be moving. While they may be moving to a new residence, she will not be moving her place of employment. She said it is worth it to be making longer a commute to Indian Valley.

“We have great camaraderie; on all grade levels I see that,” she said. “It’s a family. It really is a family. When someone is need, we are praying for each other. We are not just co-workers…we’re family.”

Heath said working in an uplifting environment is rewarding and would not want to be anywhere else.

“Mr. Abner does anything that he can do. He never tells us ‘no.’ He always finds a way and that is an awesome place to work,” said Heath.

With an enrollment of 525, Abner knows building a foundation for the future is imperative. He uses his resources to make sure all students have basic understanding of core principles inside the classroom and beyond. With help from LaKeisha Phillips-Crocker and Yola Kelly, the Little Ladies Luncheon and Dream Chasers organizations to teach girls and boys, respectively, how to carry themselves and how to achieve goals.

Exploring Club Day is another way students learn about life outside the classroom exposing them to as many enrichment activities as possible. Students are able to participate in the Health and Fitness Club, 4H Club, Outdoor Club, Fine Art Club, Book Club, and more.

“It will continue to push them to be college, career, and community ready,” said Abner. “Our goal is to just make learning, fun, and exciting.”

© 2016, SylacaugaNews.com/Marble City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.
© 2016, SylacaugaNews.com/Marble City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.
© 2016, SylacaugaNews.com/Marble City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.
© 2016, SylacaugaNews.com/Marble City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.
© 2016, SylacaugaNews.com/Marble City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.
© 2016, SylacaugaNews.com/Marble City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Michael Brannon for SylacaugaNews.com | © 2016, SylacaugaNews.com/Marble City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Michael Brannon is a former news and sports anchor from Mobile, Ala. and serves as Director of Business Development, Manager of Digital Projects and Strategy, and Managing Editor of SylacaugaNews.com.