NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Wearing neatly pressed uniforms and big smiles, each child at Chesterfield Academy in Norfolk started the new academic year with an entire village of support.

“I’m a single mom, so it took a lot; it feels good,” said Allyah Marshall said as she dropped off a kindergartener and a first grader Tuesday.

The Chesterfield Academy village includes the principal, teachers, administrators, the Norfolk State University School of Social Work, Norfolk Sherriff’s Deputies, and Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Ramim Fatehi.

Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Ramin Fatehi attends the first day of school ceremony
( WAVY photo/Regina Mobley)

“I am a big believer in being able to reach children and nurture them, nurture their self-esteem, nurture their minds and their hearts, because that is what will put them on the right path in life,” said Fatehi, whose office is overseeing investigations into several deadly mass shootings involving young victims and young suspects.

The red carpet-style event was produced by Chesterfield Academy alum Raytron White. White grew up in the nearby Grandy Village public housing community and was recently named a commissioner of the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority. NRHA owns and operates several public housing communities in Norfolk.

The 2022 welcoming event is the third hosted by White. “It means so much to me because the kids are back in school; they are back with their peers and they are back to learn in person,” said an ebullient White, who is affectionately known as the unofficial Mayor of Chesterfield Heights.

( WAVY photo/Regina Mobley)

The children of Chesterfield have pandemic-induced challenges; they spent part of 2021 on academic catch-up.

“We are accredited in reading and math and we are striving to get there in science,” said Chesterfield Academy Principal, Dr. Dara Gill.

A report released last week revealed the pandemic has been academically devastating in schools. Math scores across the country dropped seven points while reading declined by five points. According to The Washington Post, these are the lowest numbers in 30 years.

Across the country, school buildings and school districts are under attack. Monty White, the pastor of the City Life Worship Center in Norfolk, is also part of the Chesterfield village. On the first day of school, he offered prayers for safety and support for public schools. “I believe in public schools because it takes a village to raise a child,” said White. “Each and every administrator, principal, and teacher play a significant part in the growth and development of these children; so I believe in public schools.”