When they walked into their classrooms yesterday morning, students at Belle Grove Elementary School were faced with something strange and new -- walls.
"I thought it was kind of weird," said Tim Briemann, a sixth-grader, describing his reaction to a wall dividing what last year had been an open room for two classes.
"It was different," he continued, "but it will be better 'cause you can . . ."
"Work in peace," classmate Danny Perry finished for him.
That seemed to sum up the sentiments of students and teachers who on the first day of school suddenly found themselves -- some for the first time ever -- in traditional classrooms with four walls.
"It has been so quiet in this building today," remarked sixth-grade teacher Angela Everett, a 21-year veteran who has never taught in a self-contained room.
Nearly 20 years ago, the walls dividing 10 classrooms came down when former School Superintendent Edward J. Anderson brought a modified version of the open classroom idea from California.
Instead of large, open rooms with four "pods," Belle Grove rooms fit in two classes, each led by its own teacher. The concept was designed to expose students to various teachers and teaching styles and allow them to share materials and activities.
Now, the open school era has ended at Belle Grove.
"The trend all over the county is to have the walls back up, so children can pay attention," said Principal Gloria B. Reid.
"Some children are not able to handle classroom situations where there are no walls," Ms. Reid said. "There are too many distractions. Children are looking around to see what's happening and don't pay attention. Other children, it doesn't bother at all. But we don't have too many of those."
When Ms. Reid came to the school six years ago, she found many teachers and parents unhappy with the openness. Six years later, after a summer and $7,000 worth of construction, teachers, parents, even students, have gotten their way.
It's something sixth-grader Shannon Whitmore thought she'd never see.
"I was like, 'No way, they wouldn't do that!' I just had gotten so used to it," said Shannon, who started Belle Grove as a kindergartner and never had a class in a traditional space. "I didn't think they'd ever put walls up. I think it will make a lot of difference in a lot of people's grades."
Fourth-grader Brandon Lauer, 8, doesn't know what sort of difference the walls will make. But he knows what he likes.
"I like it better this way," he said. "You don't have the other class interfering with your work."
"It was hard to listen with everyone talking in the other room," said Shannon Herb, 11, a sixth-grader. "They'd be playing games and you'd be taking a test."
Of the many students interviewed, only one admitted to longing for the old days.
"I wanted to see people in other classrooms," said Walt Clubb, a sixth-grader. "I like seeing what other teachers do and pay more attention to them."