LOXLEY — Loxley was recently promoted from being a town to a city based on population growth revealed in the 2020 Census, but the municipality isn’t the only entity in the town that is …
LOXLEY — Loxley was recently promoted from being a town to a city based on population growth revealed in the 2020 Census, but the municipality isn’t the only entity in the town that is growing and looking forward to the future.
Next month, Jacque Helms will begin her first full year as principal of Loxley Elementary School, and she’s excited to welcome back the students, staff and community.
“We’re excited about the new year. We’ve already picked this year’s theme,” Helms said. “We’re the Loxley Bear Cubs, so our theme will be ‘cubs choose courage’ because a lot of times, and especially in a post-COVID world, kids have to choose to be courageous to talk to somebody that they haven’t talked to before or to try something they haven’t tried before. To come out and re-engage takes a lot of courage, and sometimes kids have that courage, but sometimes they don’t. That’s where we have teachers to encourage them in the actual sense of the word, which is to lend our courage to the children. We believe in them. They may not always believe in themselves, but we believe in them, and they can borrow that from us until they grow it themselves.”
Helms began her teaching career in Tuscaloosa County after graduating from the University of Alabama. Later when her family moved to Baldwin County, she taught at Foley High School for one year. When her family started growing, she became a stay-at-home parent for nine years. When she felt the time was right, she jumped back into the world of education.
She took a job at J. Larry Newton Elementary School, which is near Fairhope High School, before transferring to Spanish Fort Middle. She then jumped into the virtual teaching world for nine years. Prior to taking the reins at Loxley Elementary, she worked as the principal of Baldwin County Virtual Elementary/Middle School.
Now, she’s excited to bring her knowledge of the virtual world to a brick-and-mortar location.
“Knowing the virtual world and knowing the brick-and-mortar world is proving to be advantageous because I don’t think education is going to be the same (after the pandemic),” Helms said. “I think to be an educated American, and in order to be a productive citizen, you’ve got to be able to function on a computer in the world today. So those skills are translating nicely as I come into Loxley Elementary.”
Helms said the school plans to welcome approximately 550 students this upcoming school year. However, with the recent growth seen in the surrounding area, she said it wouldn’t be surprising to see those numbers rise to the 700s within three years. She and the faculty are ready to keep the school moving forward to meet the growth.
Loxley Elementary is a Leader in Me school. A major goal in the upcoming years is to achieve Lighthouse status, Helms said, something she and her team are already working toward. With the level of her staff, Helms said she is confident they will achieve that goal.
“I’m blown away with our teaching staff here,” she said. “We have quite a few coming on board, but the ones who are showing up not only on a daily basis to work in the classrooms this summer, but the ones who have gone to the Empower Conference, the ones who have gone to Camp Explore, the ones who have spent the summer getting ready, it’s just wonderful to see them coming together and dedicating their time. We have all renewed and relaxed and had some time off, but the dedication they show to these kids and the direction that Loxley is heading is just phenomenal.”
Academics are a top priority, Helms said.
“We’d like for when students leave Loxley to go to Central Baldwin Middle School, that they’re ready, that they can take on the seventh grade with all the courage and vim and vigor that they have,” she said. “We keep that academic expectation high, and teachers are excited about it and the kids will meet it.”
To help students prepare for their future, Loxley Elementary hosts a number of clubs and organizations to introduce students to activities and skills they can take with them into adulthood.
Club Days are held the first Friday of every month, where students spend an hour in a club of their choosing. Clubs include everything from running, cheerleading, gardening, science club and STEAM, which involves science, technology, engineering, art and math.
Helms hopes to add more clubs, such as crocheting and knitting, in the future.
“With new faculty coming on, they can utilize the strengths they have, the hobbies they have and bring those to the kids so we can introduce them to things that they can do outside of school,” Helms said. “This can build their confidence and give them courage to try new things even more.”
The future holds a STEAM Lab students will visit every other week, where they’ll participate in engineering-based activities, robotics and more. Students also go on virtual field trips via VR headsets, giving them the chance to see places and subjects they’re learning about “in person,” such as the Egyptian pyramids.
Helms is excited to introduce the students to the world closer to home, too.
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, fourth-grade students will take the traditional annual field trip to Montgomery. Helms said the fifth-graders will be invited along this year since they missed their trip last year. For the sixth-graders, last year saw the new tradition of a field trip to Flight Works, which will return by popular demand.
For the third-graders, Helms wants to begin an annual walking field trip of Loxley, introducing some place-based education to the students while giving them a history lesson on the community where they live.
“Loxley has been a school in this community since the '70s,” Helms said. “It’s been a lot of different things as far as grade levels that it’s served, but there’s a lot of deep tradition and ties between the community and the school, and it’s exciting to see that grow and hopefully foster it to get bigger.”