From timeworn to brand new, schools welcome 100,000 in Baltimore County

September 09, 1994|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

Five-year-old Melissa Wrightson arrived at one of Baltimore County's oldest elementary schools yesterday morning with a pink Barney knapsack over her shoulders.

"Every time we drive by, she says, 'That's my school,' " said Eamon Cusic, her stepfather. She'd been bugging him incessantly, he said, wanting to know when she'd have her first day of kindergarten at Martin Boulevard Elementary School in Middle River.

At about the same time, in Jacksonville, buses weren't the only things with red flashing lights arriving at the county's newest school. Matthew Satterfield showed up sporting red flashers on the back of his sneakers, and the 10-year-old was so eager to start fifth grade, he didn't have time to chat.

In old buildings and new, 100,000 county students began their school year yesterday.

"Virtually problem free," school spokesman Charles Herndon said of opening day. He said 615 buses transported 71,000 students with little confusion. Few parents called in with complaints, he said, and only one fight broke out.

All but one of the county's 158 schools opened on schedule. Hereford Middle will not open until Sept. 19 because of construction delays in an addition to the building.

While Martin Boulevard and Jacksonville Elementary schools both had computers in every room, walls decorated with colorful posters and teachers eager to make students comfortable, the two have differences that show learning happens in a variety of settings.

Jacksonville, a model of high technology built this year to relieve overcrowding at neighboring schools in northeastern Baltimore County, will house about 725 students. Martin Boulevard, built -- about 1927 with four wooden rooms and added onto three times since, is just large enough for its 350 youngsters.

Like many classes, Janice Liken's second grade at Martin Boulevard sat before the blackboard with a list of goals for the first day. On the agenda: "Learn about each other, think about what we might learn in second grade, enjoy music at 10:45, and practice adding numbers using dominoes."

But the building has problems. Principal Carolan Stewart requested at a Sept. 1 school board meeting that a new building be constructed to replace the current one, instead of another addition scheduled for 2000.

She said the school has a roof that sometimes leaks, and problems including sporadic roach and termite infestations and inaccessibility for handicapped students. Also, lead in the pipes has made water fountains unusable, and students must drink bottled water from coolers.

As Brandi Poore, 4, reached up to the cooler for a cup of water around 9 a.m. before starting pre-kindergarten, her mother, Bonnie Poore, 26, said she didn't mind the lead problem "as long as they keep the fountains turned off."

Mrs. Stewart, meanwhile, walked the halls calling most of the students by name. "Even though we may need a new structure, we have a welcoming environment," she said.

She greeted Jimmy Bennett, 11, who said he was glad summer has finally ended.

"It was hot, and it was boring," observed the fifth-grader, rushing to class.

His enthusiasm was mirrored at Jacksonville Elementary, where students spent their first full day, although staff and parent volunteers had spent most of the summer unpacking boxes and setting up.

Most students -- transplants from Pot Spring, Carroll Manor, Sparks and Warren Elementary schools -- arrived in 15 buses.

They found black digital clocks with red numbers mounted on the walls, and classrooms that stay dark until people walk in and the lights go on.

Balloons dotted the walkway to the school, and outside the "cafetorium" (auditorium, cafeteria and gymnasium), a worker was installing a holder for the computerized cash cards students use to pay for lunch.

"Well, we did it," said Principal Michael P. Citro.

Most students and parents had visited the new school over the summer, so opening day did not present many surprises, he added.

In one first grade class, Ryan Bozel, 6, one of two students using wheelchairs at Jacksonville, sat at a desk installed in his classroom to match the height of his wheelchair. A work-tray that attaches to the chair is available when he goes to other classrooms. Assistant principal Barbara Bisset said the entire school is accessible to the handicapped.

Another first-grader, Shaun Weinberg, said he prefers this school to his old one, Carroll Manor Elementary. "The library's bigger and there's more computers," he said, while taking a tour of the facilities with his class.

But at Martin Boulevard, Mrs. Stewart said that new amenities aren't everything.

"Even though one building might be brand new and one might be old," she said, "we have the same goal -- we want to prepare children for a changing world."

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