School Caravan Kicks Off Year

August 28, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Phelps Luck Elementary School Principal James Weisner stepped out of his office Friday afternoon and caused a scene: He rode a large red and white fire engine through the Long Reach community, waving and smiling to strangers.

"It's a brand-new truck," he said as he settled into the front passenger seat of Long Reach Fire Station's Engine No. 91. "It's great."

Trailing him were 11 vehicles, some convertibles, filled with about 50 teachers and staff, honking horns, shaking pompons and waving. "Phelps Luck is # 1" read a sign on a black pickup truck.

As the caravan passed, curious children hurried to see what was going on, adults stood and watched and some waved back.

The five-mile trek was to demonstrate the 21-year-old Columbia school's motto: "It Takes a Village to Raise a Child," an African proverb adopted by the school. The event was also an opportunity to kick off the new school year, which starts tomorrow.

"We want to let the community know that they don't always have to come here, that we can go out in the community," Mr. Weisner said.

But why the fire engine?

"We did it as an attraction for kids," said the principal, who wore a black Phelps Luck Falcons T-shirt, and a button adorned with the school mascot.

On the first leg of the 11-stop ride, Paula Reed, the school's PTA president, jumped from her vehicle and ran to Windy Sun Court to give bicyclist Benjamin Bengfort, 10, several lollipops.

"It's cool," the smiling Phelps Luck Elementary School fifth-grader said. "You usually don't get things like this every day."

Minutes later, the caravan stopped at High Tor Hill and Eaglebeak Row, where they greeted residents.

Though her toddlers are too young to attend school, Ann Schofield came to support the school's staff.

"Oh, it's just great, and it's fun for the kids to watch. It's neat. It's a good idea to get the community together," she said.

Meanwhile, the caravan proceeded to 10 more stops. After the last one, the staff returned to the school for its annual open house to let parents and students tour the building. The school has 520 students.

More than 40 children and their parents attended kindergarten orientation.

"It takes the edge off that first day of school, the fear that a lot of students have," said Susan Williams, a special education resource teacher who helped coordinate the day.

"Hopefully . . . you will be able to leave here less anxious than when you walked through the door," Mr. Weisner told the kindergartners' parents.

Some shy and crying, the kindergartners left their parents briefly to meet their teachers, Frankye Holland-Ayeh and Anne Varlotta. The teachers gave them a picture of a bus with their name and bus number so they'll know which one to ride. Those who planned to walk home got a picture of a white sneaker with their name on it.

Later, Mrs. Varlotta read something appropriate: "The Berenstein Bears Go To School."

Mr. Weisner warned the parents not to let neighbors pick up their children without written notice to the teachers. "It's really for your child's safety," he said.

After orientation, Leon Joyner Jr., who brought his 4-year-old son, Leon III, said the first day of school gave him butterflies.

"I'm just real anxious and hoping everything goes all right for him," Mr. Joyner said, while his busy son played with a hallway water fountain.

Panfu Kao, whose 5-year-old daughter Chiao-En, will be his first child to start school, said he was glad he came.

"I think it's a very good communication. They understand the situation and what parents need," he said.

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