For 15 years, Odenton Elementary School physical education teacher Debbie Shacklock has juggled gym classes with lunch crowds.
That's because Shacklock taught her physical education classes in the cafeteria. The school didn't have a gymnasium.
"I really didn't know what it was like to have a gym," she said. "And it was difficult using the cafeteria because we always had to stop for lunch and put things away. Sometimes we'd have to wait for thefloor to be cleared after lunch, too."
Shacklock doesn't have to worry about that anymore. Now she has a carpeted gym that she can call home. And so do her students, who returned to the Odenton school yesterday after a two-year hiatus.
The new gymnasium is part of a two-year, $6 million renovation project, which included sprucing up the1932 and 1960 wings and adding 20,000 square feet of new space. While workers renovated the school, teachers conducted their classes in awing at MacArthur Middle School within Fort Meade.
Those two years spent at MacArthur tested the mettle of Odenton students and teachers.
"It was very difficult to implement a program," Odenton principal Barbara San Gabino said. "All the children were bused to school and out of their community. We were a little removed from the community. And parents who were used to popping in and out couldn't do that there."
Fifth-grader Linda Conley, for example, had to ride a school bus to MacArthur. But she walks to Odenton.
"I just live a few blocks away," said Conley, 10. "I didn't like riding the bus."
But Conley and San Gabino, standing in their newly renovated school, didn't dwell on the past.
"This is really super," San Gabino said.
The principal was so enthusiastic about the first day of school, it was hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, several Odenton parentshad signed a petition for her removal. Those parents had criticized the way she had handled a playground incident involving three boys and a girl. Parents had described the incident as a mock rape. But school officials had called it a "game of tag" that got out of hand.
Tensions were eased two weeks ago after parents, San Gabino and Board of Education officials met to talk about their concerns.
Referringto the controversy yesterday, San Gabino said, "I never let it get in my way." Her voice betrayed no bitterness concerning the petition.
She seemed more interested in showing visitors her new school. As San Gabino walked along the corridors, she pointed out the science lab, the gym, the music rooms, the art room.
But her favorite spot was the new two-story media center, complete with a grand staircase and lighted atrium. The library is on the first floor. The second floorcontains a video production room, math and reading resource rooms, and a 32-station computer lab.
"I love this space," she said, pointing to the stairway and the large blocks of glass surrounding the second-floor landing.
Like San Gabino, music teacher Carol Aleksei was impressed with the school's appearance. She called it a "fantasyland."
"This is the most wonderful school I've ever seen," said Aleksei, who has been teaching for 36 years.