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Get your backpacks ready.

Houston County students return to the classroom next Thursday, July 31st.

On the north and south end of the county combined, about a thousand students will attend new schools.

Principal of the new Langston Road Elementary in Perry, Elgin Mayfield, calls security the best feature at his new school.

Langston Road's main entrance has a secure vestibule; a feature installed on most Houston County school campuses in the past few years.

Mayfield said, "All the doors except these will be locked on the campus during the school day."

Teachers use electronic badges to enter the school from every door. Mayfield said, "You can scan the badge on your scanner here, and it will unlock the doors."

No visitors get in without coming through the office first.

At the school Langston Road replaces, Perry Primary built in the 1950s, none of that was possible.

Mayfield said, "In every way, it's better."

It features new Smart Board projectors in every classroom, and a media center double the size of Perry Primary's.

Mayfield said about 520 pre-K through fifth graders will start at the school this year. There's room to grow to a capacity of 775, he said.

Langston Road Elementary combines students rezoned from five Perry elementary schools.

It cost about $14.5 million to build, according to school spokeswoman Beth McLaughlin. A special option penny sales tax paid for the construction.

While Langston Road Elementary is an entirely new school, Pearl Stephens Elementary in Warner Robins is completely refurbished from the inside out.

Principal Amanda Brantley said, "It was a very dated school."

She said crews spent the past year renovating the building for its historical value. Military from Robins built it in the 1950s.

Brantley said, "This represents our military, and to demolish it and start over would have taken away the tradition."

The school was formerly known as Linwood Elementary, but will now be called Pearl Stephens. That's to honor more city history, and the woman who helped open the first school for the county's black children.

Brantley said, "It's like walking into another brand new school."

It will house students in grades three through five. The zone's younger children will attend CB Watson a few blocks away, which opened last year.

Brantley said Pearl Stephens will open with about 420 students and 30 certified teachers.

She said, "When they come here, I want it to be where the don't want to leave."

Pearl Stephens cost about $9.5 million to renovate, and was also funded by a SPLOST.

The old Pearl Stephens' building is now Houston County's school for alternative students, called Crossroads Academy.

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