When Kelson Palmer and Jason Rodgers raised the flag on Monday morning, they experienced a first-ever during the first day of Ridge Spring-Monetta Middle-High School.

There were and will continue to be a lot of “firsts.”

The new middle school building is now located on the high school campus, after moving from what had for decades been the elementary-middle school. So did Kelson ever expect anything like this?

“Not in my lifetime,” he said without hesitation. “This is so unexpected, and I love how it looks and to be here with the high school students.”

To Jason, it doesn't matter; he'll spend just one year at the middle school before moving over to the high school.

“I just hope this helps the community and also brings an incentive to learn,” he said.

Anastasia Burch, Jennifer Gonzalez and Jocelyn Martinez were delighted to see each other after the summer. They, too, were pleased by the new school, but Jennifer was concerned “that I'll probably get lost.”

Jocelyn added she had butterflies about starting a new school.

The new middle school building is the first phase of a three-phase project to move the elementary school to the high school campus and rebuild the high school.

Warren Wintrode, now the principal of both the high and middle schools, said most of the young teenagers don't really know yet the gift they have received.

“But soon they'll realize what a jewel this place is,” he said.

Sylvia Gay was the assistant principal at the RS-M Elementary-Middle School and has now moved with the students to the new building.

“It's fun, exciting,” she said. “This is a nice, state-of-the-art school; and it's amazing the things we'll be able offer for a more rigorous curriculum. I was a science teacher, and it's great to see the new lab ... The parents are so proud to have a school like this.”

Tiffany Middlebrooks is a teacher at the high school, but on Monday, she joined two of her children for their first day in the middle school. She's delighted that the Aiken County School District is investing in the community, and guidance counselor Kim Carges agrees.

The counselor enjoyed the chance to welcome the students as they arrived – among them Tara Brim, who gave her a big hug.

Carges lives in Aiken, but her heart is invested in Ridge Spring and Monetta.

“We're in the middle of nowhere,” Carges said. “You think you're forgotten, and we were dealing with old materials and the old building. Now it's like a fairy tale, and we're stepping up a little bit and renewing our spirit.”

The new construction should be a shot in the arm, said Dr. Tim Yarborough, the School District's high school academic officer. He hopes that new students, such as those in private schools, can return to the area as a result of the facility.

Ridge Spring Mayor Paul Bartley has resided in the community for about three years, but lived between the town and Saluda throughout his life. He acknowledged he and other residents are a little sad to see the middle school leave the center of Ridge Spring.

“But I think we've got a new facility, and we'll do what's best for the kids,” Bartley said. “A lot of people don't like change, but I haven't heard anything negative about it.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter.