REIDSVILLE — When sixth-grader Cameron Dalton's grades started slipping last year, his family was concerned. But after he transferred to Bethany Community Middle School in the fall, Cameron, 12, is on the A-B Honor Roll and is much happier at his new school, he said.
"The smaller classes really helped me," he said, adding teachers have more time to give students individual attention.
Principal Vicky Bethel said teachers and staff get to know every student on a personal basis.
BCMS came into being in 2000 with an enrollment of 75 students, said Leon Gentry, chairman of the Bethany Community School foundation, who helped organize the group in 1999.
After the four school systems in the county were consolidated in 1993, Bethany students were transferred to Rockingham County High School. Middle school students remained at Bethany. In about 1997, the county Board of Education decided to move the middle school out of the community.
"This is a close-knit community with Bethany School a focal point in the lives in this area," Gentry said.
Residents were alarmed about moving their children to a larger school, especially since it involved a 90-minute bus trip oneway for some students.
School superintendent George Fleetwood suggested the residents consider starting a charter school. A charter school is publicly funded, but privately operated.
J.W. Pearman chaired the effort to start the school.
"It's like starting a new business," Gentry said. "You have nothing to go by."
First they had to find a building. Then they had to hire personnel, develop policies, procedures and curriculum and be approved by the charter school office of the Department of Public Instruction.
On Feb. 3, 2000, BCMS got its charter to "do business as a public entity," Gentry said.
RCS agreed to lease the group the old Teacherage and Science buildings on the Bethany School property.
A foundation set up in 2008 helps supplement the capital fund through fundraisers such as concerts and community events.
BCMS has been a huge success with a current enrollment of around 250 sixth-, seventh-and eighth-graders, taught by 15 state-licensed teachers. The staff also includes Bethel, Assistant Principal Winifred Lezine and other support staff.
Each day, two BCMS buses pick up students at a designated location in Eden, two in Reidsville, and one in the western part of the county.
The school has a cafete-
ria, and local restaurants cater lunches at a cost of $3.30 per meal, or the students can bring their lunches. Gentry is proud of the fact the lunch price has not changed in several years.
BCMS now leases the former Bethany High School building, which became available when Bethany Elementary School was completed.
Enrollment limits vary each year. For the coming school year, BCMS can accept 95 in sixth grade, 92 in seventh and 92 in eighth. The school has had waiting lists in the past and expects to have one for sixth grade this year.
With an average classroom size of about 20, BCMS has the highest composite end-of-grade (EOG) scores in math and reading of all middle schools in Rockingham County.
Seventh-grader Sophie Lewis, 13, said she especially likes the smaller class size, which was one reason her parents enrolled her at BCMS. Another reason for attending BCMS is that her grandmother, long-time educator Elaine McCollum, helped organize BCMS and is a strong supporter.
Sydney Burkett, 14 and an eighth-grader, said her parents also thought the smaller school might be more supportive of Sydney's efforts to enroll at the county school's Early College Program next year.
Currently, students there are offered courses in subjects such as language arts, math, social studies, science, character education, physical education and computer technology. They also have electives such as chorus, journalism, yearbook, band, art, creative writing, chess, health and fitness, sports appreciation, drama, media (library) assistance, photography, life skills, student council and Latin.
After school, students participate in Junior Beta Club, Lego League Robotics, and athletics include boys and girls basketball, co-ed soccer, softball, baseball and cheerleading.
With the community's high involvement in BCMS, students also participate in community service projects such as Nothing But Nets, Operation Christmas Child, Relay for Life, a Veterans program, Crop Walk, Flight of Honor, County-Wide Food Drive, Give a Kid a Coat, Toys for Tots, Water Day and Pennies for Leukemia.
BCMS donated to the community garden in Mayodan, make and deliver bags to nursing home patients at Christmas with the chorus providing music. This year, as in most years, they had a local and state winner in the DAR essay contest.
Reidsville native Ann Fish has lived in Eden since 1979. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Bethany Community Middle School is at 181 Bethany Road at the intersection of N.C. 65 and Bethany Road in Rockingham County's southwest region near the Guilford County line.