As Peachtree Elementary School students headed to their buses on Monday afternoon, they marched through a sea of bubbles to the tune or an arguably fitting anthem for the 50th anniversary of the school’s opening.
The school picked a ’70s theme for celebrations of five decades of learning at the Peachtree Elementary, which opened in 1971. As part of that theme, the Jackson 5’s “ABC” was blaring out of a sound system as the students headed to their buses.
As the song blared, school staff who were wearing tie-dye shirts waved bubble wands over the students, complimenting the bubbles coming from two bubble machines.
“It’s a huge milestone and such a celebration,” Peachtree Elementary Principal Gretchen Runaldue said. “Some of the things are the same as 50 years ago — our commitment to or children, our commitment to excellence in education — (and) some of the buildings have been here for 50 years, so that’s really interesting.”
Peachtree Elementary School, which houses an International Baccalaureate program, has been a mainstay in the Peachtree Corners since 1971 — it actually predates the area even being called Peachtree Corners, according to Runaldue.
The school’s principal called it, along with other GCPS schools in the area, a key part of the community in far western Gwinnett — although she acknowledged that among the elementary schools that feed into Norcross High School and the Paul Duke STEM High School, Norcross Elementary School is actually older.
“(Peachtree Elementary) is a cornerstone of our community,” Runaldue said. “One of the best things that we love is to watch our children as they go from us, to Pinckneyville and then on to Norcross or Paul Duke (and) to see their accomplishments. It’s amazing to see the leaders that they’ve become.”
The school’s history, like many other parts of the Peachtree Corners community, has ties back to Atlanta Technology Park founder Paul Duke.
“We were Mr. Dukes’ plan for pulling in people to Technology Park,” Runaldue said.
As part of the celebrations on Monday, video messages from Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent Calvin Watts, Gwinnett school board member Mary Kay Murphy and Peachtree Elementary founding principal Brooks Coleman were played for students.
Coleman, who said in his video that it was hard to believe 50 years had passed since the school opened, recounted the school’s opening. He told students that Peachtree Elementary’s first pupils were were scattered across the Norcross area because the school building wasn’t ready in time for the beginning of the school year.
“We had to place our first- and second-graders over at the old Norcross Elementary School,” he said. “We placed our third-graders at Summerour Middle School — they were placed in the gymnasium and locker rooms, in the shower rooms.
“And a funny thing happened. Some of the boys and girls played a trick one day and turned the water on in those showers so we had to go in there and turn the water off where they couldn’t do that again. That was an interesting situation.”
Fourth- and fifth-graders in those early days were housed at an old building known as “The Castle,” which was the first school ever built in Norcross.
Another recollection Coleman had of the school’s early years is that, once the building — which was the first GCPS school to have carpet — was ready to open, there was no paved road leading to it.
“The county and the school system could not get together so they did not pave the road,” he said. “So, there we were in a brand new facility with no way to get in there except a dirt road. Of course it’s raining, and it rained all week, on the day we moved.
“So, (when) we had to bring the buses in, would you believe we had to hire wreckers to help pull the buses down into the school, to bring teachers and students into the (school)? We let them off the buses on pallets so they could walk in and stay out of the mud.”
As part of the festivities, Peachtree Elementary’s current pupils also got to enjoy birthday cupcakes with icing that was blue — one of the school’s colors — at lunch. There were 70s-themed dance breaks periodically throughout the day as well.
And, just before the school day ended, Runaldue read a book to a class of third-graders before a video of her reading the same book was played for the rest of the school. The students she read to in person responded by doing a variety of ’70s dances — including disco dancing — for their principal.
The anniversary celebrations were a little more significant for some members of the Peachtree Elementary staff, however, because they had themselves once been students at the school.
Media specialist Erin Greenstein began kindergarten at the school in 1991, the year Peachtree Elementary celebrated its 20th birthday. She has now been an employee at the school for 14 years.
“I just remember always loving coming in here (as a student),” Greenstein said. “I loved the teachers and the students. It was always very happy and I would get excited to come to school and leave for the next day. I just have great memories of my teachers going above and beyond.
“It wasn’t just the humdrum of a classroom. We were always doing extra, and painting and singing and having fun and reading so many books.”
Greenstein said that, just as the school encourages students to be risk takers now, the staff in the 1990s also encouraged students to never stop trying new things. She also said she wants the students she deals with at the school now to have the same kind of memories that she has from when she was a student.
“I remember feeling comfortable and safe and loved by everyone here,” Greenstein said. “That is a feeling that, as a staff member now, I try to continue for all of the students. That’s just how we are here at Peachtree. It’s home and we love it.”
Gwinnettians once again have an option for recycling glass products.
The county launched a new pilot program with Waste Pro USA over the weekend to give residents a place to drop off glass products for recycling. The program entails a glass recycling drop box being located at OneStop Norcross.
“Gwinnett County values stewardship and sustainability and heard from many residents over the last few years who want a way to recycle their glass containers,” said Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Nicole Hendrickson. “We also recognize the many benefits of recycling glass and are delighted to partner with Waste Pro on this effort.”
The new pilot program somewhat reverses a gradual trend that was seen half a decade ago to move away from glass recycling in Gwinnett. For at least the last three to five years, county residents have had to either throw glass items in the trash for solid waste collection or find a place of their own to take those items for recycling.
At one time, Gwinnett residents could put their glass items in their curbside recycling boxes or take them to the Recycling Bank of Gwinnett in Duluth, but some cities and the Recycling Bank stopped accepting glass items for recycling in 2016. The county government followed suit in 2018.
Over the years since then, there have been calls to provide a new option for residents to turn in glass products for recycling.
“A program like this is a great way to bring back glass recycling to the community,” said Commissioner Ben Ku, who was elected months after the county government decided to end curbside glass recycling. “When I voiced my desire for this initiative, I knew it would be a learning process, one that we can grow from and eventually expand.”
The glass recycling drop-off bin is located at 5030 Georgia Belle Court in Norcross, and it is available to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Items must be clear or colored food and beverage bottles and jars to be accepted for recycling.
County officials said a benefit of having glass recycling is that the items can be used to make other products such as kitchen tiles and insulation. They also said it will keep the glass items out of landfills, thereby reducing the space demands on the landfills.
“We are thrilled to partner with Gwinnett County on the glass recycling pilot program,” said Waste Pro Division Manager Jennifer Herring. “Recycling materials when they can be recycled is the right thing to do.”
Gwinnett County officials are turning to incentives in an effort to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19.
County officials will offer $100 Visa gift cards to people 12 and older who get a vaccine shot during the Vaccines Aren’t Scary event that is being staged in partnership with the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments on Friday and Saturday at the mass vaccination site located in the former Sears store at Gwinnett Place Mall. The giveaways will last from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. each day.
The offer comes as county officials said the demand for vaccines in Gwinnett has slowed down.
“All of our residents are busy, some were waiting for more information and some simply haven’t gotten around to getting vaccinated yet,” said Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Nicole Hendrickson. “We’re giving residents another reason to get vaccinated now in the hopes that this is the little push some people need to go ahead and get their shot.”
As of Monday, 53% of Gwinnettians are fully vaccinated and 55% have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health’s vaccination dash board. State health officials said Gwinnett had 2,509 new COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks, with a two-week incidence rate of 258 new cases.
While the two-week incidence rate is down from the rate of 518 cases reported on Oct. 4, it’s also significantly higher than it was in early July when the rate each day were below 50 new cases over a two-week period.
“The only way out of this pandemic is through vaccination,” said Dr. Audrey Arona, who is the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale health district director. “We’re grateful to the County for providing incentives and hope this opportunity moves more of our community to choose to be vaccinated.”
The vaccine incentive gift cards are being paid for with federal funding that came to Gwinnett as part of the American Rescue Plan Act.
Anyone who wants a guarantee of getting a vaccination and a gift card should make an appointment at GCGA.us/VaccineIncentive by 9 a.m. Thursday for the Friday date, or by 9 a.m. on Friday for the Saturday date. The vaccination site only offers the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Residents should bring their insurance and identification cards if they have them, although county officials said they will not turn away people who have neither card. The vaccine is free for residents.
The Gwinnett Place Mall mass vaccination site is located at 2100 Pleasant Hill Road in Duluth.