At 8:40 a.m. each day, the bell rings and the halls fill with 530 kids, ages 6-12.
There is laughter, shouting, hugs and excitement as students enter Etna Road Elementary School, preparing for their day. I see them outside, in the office or in the hallways, and they stop to say "hello," give me a hug or tell me a little bit of what is going on in their lives.
This has been my regular routine for four years during my service as Etna Road Elementary School principal.
While this now seems so normal, I take pause and reflect that, a little over six years ago, I never thought I'd find myself in an elementary school.
In my former life, I was a practicing attorney serving as a public defender, prosecutor and an advocate for children. I spent my days in courtrooms litigating cases to best serve my clients and fighting for the best resolutions for the children I represented.
How did I end up as an elementary school principal in Whitehall? In short, I took the long way around to my dream job.
I graduated from Ohio State University in 2004 with a major that would have prepared me to become a high school history teacher after earning a master's degree. At that time, I was not ready to commit to another degree, so I began working in a residential facility in Cleveland for children with emotional and behavioral disorders.
I loved that work and wanted to find a way to further advocate for children, so I decided to attend law school. I graduated in 2009 from Hofstra University in New York with a concentration in child and family advocacy and practiced law in New York before returning to Ohio in 2014.
On my return, I had the amazing opportunity to be selected as a BRIGHT New Leaders for Ohio Schools Fellow.
Through this program, I was trained to be a principal in a high-needs school, and I spent a year earning my master's degree in business administration at Ohio State while serving as a principal intern in South-Western City Schools.
Ultimately, the master's degree I did not pursue in 2004 was earned 12 years later.
Why did I change careers and take this road back to education? The answer for me is simple: the children.
I spent 12 years advocating and working with children in systems that helped them but never seemed to solve any underlying problems. I was frustrated with getting involved too late to make any real changes. I wanted to make school a happy, safe and positive environment for kids to grow and develop and not end up in the systems I had worked in previously.
I strive to do this each and every day.
Six years ago, I may not have imagined being principal of Etna Road Elementary School, but today, there is nowhere I would rather be.
Jessica Moore is principal of Etna Road Elementary School.