Folks big and small share hugs and tears after school fire

January 10, 1995|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

There was some joy at the burned-out Sparks Elementary School yesterday.

Art teacher Susan Connolly recovered the "only thing I wanted out of my entire room," a small metal file box of pictures -- the 20-year record of her students' work. A custodian brought it to her, and it was unscathed.

Second-grader Kirsten Kazlauskas found her teacher, Gloria Matthews, and the hugs and the smiles she received seemed to put to rest the youngster's fears about her teacher's safety.

Youngsters peering from a mini-van crawling along Sparks Road opened windows and doors, calling to a teacher -- "Mrs. Bell! Mrs. Bell!"

"Hi, how are you guys?" special education teacher Janet Bell said, approaching the van to reassure the children.

It was part homecoming, part pilgrimage and part wake outside of Sparks yesterday, as students present and past, parents, teachers and neighbors came to see the damage done in Sunday's fire -- and to take comfort in one another.

There were lots of hugs, and at least a few tears, as little groups gathered along the fence erected outside the stone building after the blaze.

Many took pictures. Some just stared, while almost all shook their heads at the remains of the school that had served the community for 85 years.

On Friday, Sparks students and teachers will be back together, at Cockeysville Middle School, officials announced late yesterday.

"It's tragic to see something like this," said Carol Kleinman, who had taken two daughters and a stepdaughter to see their school yesterday morning.

"They were sad; they wanted to see what happened," she said. "They were pleased to see the sign at the top of the school."

Former Principal Bill Groth was teary-eyed as he viewed the burned building.

"I can't believe it. This was the best school," said Mr. Groth, who was principal from 1976 to 1983. "Two years after I retired, I married the first-grade teacher, Kathleen Davidson."

Ms. Davidson's first-floor classroom was spared the destruction

of rooms on on the second floor. In fact, Mr. Groth said he could still see his wife's wool sweater hanging from the back of her chair.

"I never dreamed that anything like this would happen. I've lost the accumulation of an entire career," " said fifth-grade teacher Mary Lu Pool, who has taught at Sparks for 15 of her 25 years in the classroom.

Ms. Pool said she had collected newspapers from all over the world during her travels over the years and used them when her students produced their own paper. She had an aquarium with fish taken from a nearby stream that her students often used as a ecology lab.

"I had information sheets for anything you can think of . . . videos to go with ecology units . . . materials that I've developed for cooperative learning. This year alone I've spent probably $300 on supplementary math materials. I have literally thousands of dollars of personal things in that classroom. It's all gone," she said.

Ms. Pool and her colleagues went to work yesterday at Hereford Middle School, just up York Road from Sparks.

After a private meeting with their principal, Tom Ellis, updates from school and county officials and reassuring comments from school board President Paul Cunningham, they went to work making lists: school property in their classrooms, personal property in their classrooms, the study units they intend to teach between now and Easter and the absolute necessities they require to start teaching again.

"I cannot expect you to go in and teach without the things you need," said Mr. Cunningham, who teaches at Catonsville Community College. "The most important thing is to keep you together. We'll do everything we can."

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III pledged the county's help in cutting through bureaucracy to get the teachers and students settled. "We can take this negative and clearly turn it into a positive," he said.

"I equate this to what happens when an Amish farmer's barn burns down. They pull together and rebuild quickly, and they build it even stronger than before."

"I feel sorry for the parents and the kids," said Sparks gym teacher Chris Ramer. "That's a rural school and everything revolves around it. It's really a terrific school. I'd like to see them rebuild it, but I don't think they will."

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