Courtney Stambaugh ’05 Strides the South Side
By Jacqueline Palochko
photo by Kristen Harrison of the Morning Call.
The Morning Call, August 9, 2019
As soon as 5-year-old Kylie Batiz saw the entourage walking toward her house, she hopped off her front porch and ran to greet them.
“Hi, Miss Kylie,” Courtney Stambaugh said, crouching down to Kylie’s height and introducing herself as the principal at Fountain Hill Elementary, where Kylie will attend in just a few weeks. “We have something for you.”
Stambaugh and Assistant Vice Principal Jose Sanchez handed Kylie a purple backpack that inside had a pencil, a folder with information on the school, two books and a stuffed tiger, Fountain Hill’s mascot.
“I’m excited to learn,” Kylie said, as she held her backpack with a smile on her face.
For the first time, teachers and principals at Fountain Hill and Donegan Elementary in nearby South Bethlehem went door-to-door Friday morning introducing themselves to incoming kindergarten students, like Kylie.
The idea originated with Stambaugh, who is the new principal after Lisa Lynch retired in the spring. Stambaugh wanted to do an event where she introduced herself to the community before the first day of school, so she borrowed the door-to-door visits from Freedom High, which has been visiting incoming freshmen since 2016. Erin Martin-Medina, the new principal at Donegan Elementary, was also on board with the visits and had a team canvassing South Bethlehem on Friday. Bethlehem Area officials were calling Friday’s visits the South Side Stride.
Fountain Hill staff visited 41 homes out of the 60 students who are registered to attend kindergarten this year. After the visits, parents and children were invited to the park on Stanley Avenue for Popsicles, popcorn and more information on the Bethlehem Area School District.
Both elementary schools have challenges in their communities. Almost 100% of students at Donegan are economically disadvantaged, with 18% not speaking English. At Fountain Hill, 90% of students are low-income and 14% are English language learners.
Besides making the incoming students feel welcomed by the visits, Stambaugh wanted parents to know that the school is available as a resource for parents, such as through counseling and translating.
“We’re wrapping our arms around the South Side community,” Stambaugh said. “It’s so critical for schools to be the hub of a community.”
Not all the students were as forthcoming as Kylie. When Stambaugh and Sanchez knocked on the door for 5-year-old Canon Mendoza, he bashfully hid behind his mother, Alyssa Bohringer.
But after picking out his blue backpack, Canon threw his arms around Stambaugh’s neck for a hug.
For parents, the visits settled any jitters they might have as they prepare to send their child to full-day school. With two other children already at Fountain Hill, Rebecca Wentworth’s daughter Emily will start kindergarten this month.
Wentworth said her two older children were jealous they didn’t get visits and a picnic in the park before school started. But Wentworth wasn’t surprised Fountain Hill went the extra mile this year.
“They’re so supportive with everything,” she said.
When Hailey Crimi, 5, heard the knock, she pushed her front door open with a look of apprehension and excitement. Still in her Minnie Mouse pajamas, she pointed to a pink backpack when asked her favorite color.
“Welcome to Fountain Hill,” Stambaugh said while Hailey peered at the Dr. Seuss book in her backpack.
As Stambaugh turned to leave, she glimpsed back at Hailey’s house. Hailey was pressed up to the window, holding one of her books and ferociously waving goodbye to her new principal.