School opens smoothly as kids say goodbye to vacation

August 30, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

With a blue nylon knapsack on his back and an Orioles lunch bag in his hand, 9-year-old Kyle Barkhalter stood in front of Thunder Hill Elementary School in Columbia yesterday morning, waiting for the doors to swing open on a new year.

As parents crowded around their children and students in crisp new outfits caught up with old friends, Kyle was reflective.

"It seems the summer has gone by too fast," he lamented.

Summer vacation officially ended yesterday for a record 36,000 Howard County public school students. They returned to a school system struggling to keep up with a one-year population increase of 1,800 students, the largest since 1973 and one that has required school officials to hire an additional 215 teachers for the current school year.

Despite all of that, the first day was a smooth one, school officials said.

"Overall, we always hope for this kind of a start -- that everything will go smoothly and everybody goes where they were supposed to go and everybody has a positive start," said Patti Caplan, school system spokeswoman. "We accomplished that. I think we need to commend all of our staff for making sure that happened -- from bus drivers to principals to staff to cafeteria people."

At Thunder Hill, staff and students returned to a building that had a new heating and air conditioning unit, a fresh coat of paint and new blue shelves and walls. The renovation was part of the school system's multi-million dollar effort this summer to spruce up the county's older schools.

Linda Ling came to Thunder Hill to usher her twin daughters, Lillian and Vivian Ling, into their new second-grade classrooms.

"They're very excited," she said. "Sometimes they talk about school during the summer."

Over the summer, her children swam, bicycled, practiced the piano and even took some Chinese language courses, Mrs. Ling said.

Vivian was anxious to go back to school. "I want to go to school, because I can't wait to try my new stuff," she said, referring to the goodies in her backpack. "I have my new lunch box."

She opened her backpack, decorated with pictures of Simba of the film "The Lion King," and showed a shiny pink lunch box decorated with ballet slippers, a new notebook, pencils still in the plastic wrapping and a plastic green pencil case. Her father had brought them when he returned from a trip to Hong Kong.

At Talbott Springs Elementary School, an array of 39 flags helped welcome 100 new students at the 20-year-old school.

Six-year-old Niles Brandon, a first-grader, said he was ready to go back, especially since he is out of kindergarten. He likes to be in school for a full day instead of a half-day.

"I want to go to go to school so I can learn how to write," he said, sipping on some apple juice during lunch. "Then I want to be an artist."

It was a smooth opening at Talbott Springs, Principal Thomas Brown said. But the real test would come after school.

"What will determine the success of the first day is if we can get the kids back on the bus," he said. "It's the most difficult thing to do, especially when you talk about kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders.

"It takes a lot of manpower to get the kids on the bus. But we're determined to do that."

That process eventually went off without a hitch.

"We got every kid on the right bus," Mr. Brown said after the school day ended.

Among the biggest changes in the school system this year is the opening of the new River Hill High School in Clarksville, temporarily home to students from Wilde Lake High School, while their own school is being demolished and rebuilt.

At River Hill, students studied maps to get around the new school that will be theirs for the next two years until they move back to Wilde Lake.

... TC "I love the school," said Chris Benning, a 17-year-old senior who, along with other athletes, stood outside after school to wait for a school bus to take him to afternoon practice.

"I love the gym," said Chris, a football nose guard. "I saw the plans. It looked really nice."

Freshman Jodi Richmand, 14, also was impressed by the new school. "It was comfortable because it was really big," she said.

"It was really neat. People were really nice."

Other students said they missed their old school's small, comfortable size. "It's too big," complained Maria Comulada, 16.

"You don't feel at home, not like at the old school. It doesn't feel like your old school."

Casting a shadow over the end of the first day was a car accident that injured five Wilde Lake students whose car skipped the curb and collided with a tree.

More than 100 Wilde Lake students on their way home -- some in buses, others in cars -- saw the accident.

"We're saying some prayers, just hoping they're going to pull through," Ms. Caplan said.

"It's so unfortunate it had to end with a tragic accident like that. Our thoughts are with the family."

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