Makayla Page was so excited about what Monday morning would bring, it took her half an hour to settle down and fall asleep Sunday night.
That’s because this was not only the first day of her 2017-18 school year, and not only the first day of her middle school career, but also the first day of classes in the history of Rainey-McCullers School of the Arts – and Makayla was among the estimated 350 students in grades 6-10 making that history.
The $36 million project is designed to accommodate 500 students in grades 6-12 but will add 11th grade next year and 12th grade the following year. The three-story, 118,500-square-foot facility at 1700 Midtown Drive is named after famous Columbus natives Ma Rainey, a blues singer, and Carson McCullers, a novelist.
“I’m just excited to be incorporated into the arts and have them incorporated into our learning,” said Makayla, a sixth-grader. She is interested in theater, orchestra and photography but aspires to be a medical researcher.
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Her father, John Page, said as he dropped off Makayla, “I’m happy and sad to see her growing up. I’m pretty proud of her for making this big decision. It was her choice to come here. We checked the school out to make sure it met our standards.”
And that meant ensuring that the school isn’t “all about the arts,” Page said. “Academics are pretty important to us.”
Indeed, another sixth-grader, Logan Cardin, said, “This school really gives me the chance to share my passion as a violinist and to enhance my skills.” He emphasized, however, that music is “just my hobby” and that his career goal is to become a neurological surgeon.
Logan was looking forward to “new opportunities, new days and new friends. I get the chance to experience something not all people get to experience. I get to perform in the arts and do what I love, and I get to have a great time here.”
His older sister, sophomore Sarah Beth Cardin, seeks a career in theater. She has been participating in the Springer Theatre Academy for 10 years, so she figures Rainey-McCullers will help her “perfect my craft. I’m really glad Columbus has this arts influence on it now.”
The promise of Rainey-McCullers was compelling enough for Sarah Beth to leave Northside High School.
“It was a really hard decision for me,” she said. “The drama teacher (at Northside), Isiah Harper, is so amazing. His work is incredibly detailed and fantastic. He’s a great guy, so I didn’t want to leave that, but I also wanted what would be best for my future, and I thought this would probably look better on my resume and would go into more depth. I want to learn all aspects of theater.”
Sarah Beth also is inspired to be in the first class that will graduate from Rainey-McCullers.
“That’s really cool,” she said. “I love the idea of being in a very small graduating class (approximately 25). A smaller group of people means better teamwork.”
Rainey-McCullers principal Briant Williams wasn’t available for an interview, but Muscogee County School District Superintendent David Lewis greeted students and parents as they arrived. The school’s auditorium and outside signs aren’t ready yet, Lewis acknowledged, yet he gushed about the facility.
“It’s tremendous,” Lewis said. “This is the first time in my career where the building has actually exceeded my expectations. So it’s really exciting to see the opportunities we have for our students. … So many people worked so long and envisioned this for so long and to have them expressing real joy about the school is exciting as well, so I’m pleased we could bring it to fruition.”
Michael Forte was pleased his sixth-grade son, Jonathan, let him squeeze in a few minutes as a father at Rainey-McCullers before he had to rush off to his new job as Early College Academy principal after leading Rothschild Leadership Academy the past four years.
“It’s bittersweet because he’s moving from elementary school to middle school,” Forte said, “and now we’ve got to let go.”
Jonathan didn’t let his dad escort him beyond the entrance – and didn’t let him linger.
“He dismissed me very quickly,” Forte said with a smile.
Lewis noticed the parents seemed more nervous than the students.
One of the mothers he greeted asked him, “How are you?”
The superintendent answered, “Very well, and I hope you are.”
The mother replied, “We’ll see at the end of the day.”
And the superintendent assured her, “It’ll be great.”