Bardstown goes back to school

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By Kacie Goode

Waiting at the front entrance of Bardstown Elementary School, “Papa Joe” opens car doors and greets the nervous and excited kids clutching their backpacks and notebooks. He’s a friendly face on the first day of school, and has been for about four years.


“He is out here every day — rain, shine, snow, hot, cold,” said BES Principal Paul Bowling of the volunteer. “Everybody knows him.”

“Papa Joe” (Joe Nalley) said he started helping out in the mornings originally at Bardstown Primary. He remembered dropping his grandson off for school one day and noticing there was only one person at the entrance to open doors and help navigate students safely inside. He wanted to help out.

“I started the next day and been doing it ever since,” he said.

As his grandson has advanced to the elementary school, he started helping there. Not only does he open the doors and greet each kid with a “Good morning,” he also monitors traffic and helps students and teachers cross the parking lot safely.

“He’s a big help,” Bowling said.

Bowling was also a friendly face, not just for the young students, but also for their parents. With 22 years under his belt, some of his new students are the children of his former students.

A grandpa’s friendly smile and a familiar administrator were not the only resources to ease first-day jitters. Monday night, as parents wrestled to get their new students ready for bed the eve of their kindergarten debut, Bardstown Primary School Principal Michelle Ryan snuggled up with stuffed animals on her couch and read “Wemberly Worried” over Facebook Live. The story about a nervous little mouse on her first day of school made for an appropriate and reassuring bedtime story, which BPS students new and returning tuned in to watch.

“My dad always told me and my sisters, ‘Don’t worry, everything will be OK,’ ” Ryan said in the video. “I want you to keep thinking that same thing. Don’t worry, everything is going to be OK. School is so much fun.”