Sparks Elementary School, destroyed by fire Sunday, was born again yesterday as its 300 youngsters went to class in their new, temporary home at Cockeysville Middle School.
Despite throngs of well-wishers, a flurry of pink sharks and a librarian dressed like Little Red Riding Hood, the students' return was orderly -- a tribute to long hours of hard work by their teachers, school officials and the community.
"Are you ready, Ms. Davidson?" Sparks Principal Thomas Ellis asked a first-grade teacher shortly after 9 a.m.
"We're ready," Kathleen Davidson answered.
"Then, you can be the first in," the principal said.
With that, the Sparks youngsters moved into their new home, following the school motto many wore on their bright blue, shark-covered shirts: "Sparks Sharks: Always Moving Forward."
By 9:30 a.m., students and teachers were in their new classrooms, ready for morning announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance. After that, it was largely business as usual, except for some school tours and drop-in visitors.
Classes seemed to have plenty of materials -- often donated by teachers from other schools -- though some classrooms didn't have enough textbooks. Those will be coming from other Baltimore County schools and the system's surplus when teachers know exactly what they need.
"I probably have more materials -- not the same materials -- but more materials than I previously had," said fifth-grade teacher Mary Lu Pool.
"I still can't believe we did it," said Mr. Ellis, just after kindergartners straggled to their classroom. "There have been so many people -- probably thousands -- who have pitched in."
Sparks students will be at Cockeysville for the rest of the school year, but no plans have been announced beyond that.
It had been less than four days since Cockeysville Principal Marsha Baumeister learned her underenrolled school would be taking in the Sparks 300.
An "absolutely dynamite custodial staff" repainted bathrooms, built steps so that elementary youngsters could reach bathroom sinks and unpacked six truckloads of furniture and supplies in one day, Ms. Baumeister said.
The principal praised her staff for sharing space graciously and her students, who she said see themselves as big brothers and sisters to the newcomers.
"Our kids are really learning how to act in a crisis," she said. "I'm proud of them."
Cockeysville students made the pink sharks that marked the way to Sparks' classrooms and the banners that welcomed their new schoolmates.
As students were settling in at Cockeysville, Superintendent Stuart Berger announced he would name a committee next week to look at long-range plans for Sparks school.
"We do have some options open; we're beginning to take a look fairly quickly," said Charles Herndon, school system spokesman.
James Kraft, the school system's capital planning manager, said, "I think it's imperative that we build another school. The questions are how big and where."
Mr. Kraft said Sparks was one of four elementary schools serving 200 square miles of northern Baltimore County.
Two of the remaining schools -- Fifth District and Seventh District -- already are over capacity, and Prettyboy is at capacity.
Mr. Kraft suggested that the new Sparks accommodate at least 500 students, 200 more than the burned-out building.
He said officials don't know whether the Sparks site, along Sparks Road just east of York Road, can accommodate a building that large.
The site has enough land, but much of it is hilly and unsuitable for building. The well and septic systems may be inadequate for a larger building, he said.
The fire reduced the 95-year-old school to its stone walls, but because of its history and long service as the focal point of the community, there is considerable sentiment to rebuild on the same site or even within the stone shell.
Damage to the building and its contents was estimated at about $4 million, but insurance will pay for a school of the same size at today's costs, said Faith Hermann, executive director of school facilities.
A new Sparks also would qualify for state school construction funds, Mr. Kraft said.