Last call at Lost and Found Inventory: As school ends, an array of items left behind during the year is spread before students for one last chance at claiming them.

June 14, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Once a year, the black hole that gobbles up children's belongings makes amends.

At Anne Arundel County's Sunset Elementary School, 42 sweat shirts, 24 hats, two dozen mateless gloves plus two pairs, 21 lunch boxes, 18 jackets, two pairs of shoes, two hoods, one water bottle and a bevy of other rumpled items beckoned to the 675 children: "Take me, I'm yours."

First-grader Samantha Pegg took a blue knit Power Rangers glove.

"It's mine," she said confidently. "I have one like it."

She had lost the glove, who knows when, and had forgotten until the contents of the Lost and Found were laid out on three decks of risers in the school cafeteria.

Every elementary school has a Lost and Found, a pile of identification-free items remarkably similar from school to school. child knows how or when something of his or hers got there. By this time of year, most grade-schoolers have forgotten that they lost whatever it was they lost, and many parents aren't rushing to look for clothes the kids have probably outgrown.

The final weeks of school are last call for the Lost and Found. Bulletins beckon parents to pick through the bins. Cafeterias look like garage sales as merchandise is laid out for students to view.

Elizabeth Aldridge, Odenton Elementary music teacher and Lost and Found keeper, recited her list, then said, "You wonder, how did they go home without their shoes?"

School systems, which have policies for most things, generally have none for the Lost and Found. But most principals run theirs about the same: Remind parents and children often. If the pile gets overwhelming, issue final notice before saving a few things for crises and hauling the rest to a charity.

At Howard County's Worthington Elementary School, girls say only the adventurous heed lunchtime admonitions to pick through the Lost and Found.

"Nobody touches it. It's got old milk and stuff in the smell," said Britt Faulkner, a fifth-grader. "It's old, yucky and disgusting."

The best thing to do, a gaggle of girls agreed, is to wait until the end of the year when contents of the overflowing laundry cart are spread out on stage. That way, you are spared having to dig through the jumble where, reportedly, a spider once was spotted. But with luck, small items recently lost can be scooped from the top of the pile.

Today is when the 600-plus Worthington students will march past the merchandise, including a bunch of sweaters the girls say were too ugly to claim when teachers displayed them in class. Principal Fran Donaldson is hoping half the pile vanishes.

Teachers and administrators say parents should scour the Lost and Found themselves.

"I check it, oh, yes," said Leslie Flax of Baltimore County, who has recovered everything her Summit Park Elementary first-grader has misplaced except his jacket.

Because grade-schoolers don't share their parents' priorities, the cost of clothing is irrelevant.

"I can't believe somebody didn't claim this," said Sunset PTA VTC president Sue Smithers, grabbing a light blue Pasadena Clinic League baseball jacket. "You had to sell 75 raffle tickets to get this. And you know how hard that is? Most of us end up having to buy 50 of the tickets ourselves."

Jackets pulled off at recess remain on the playground because overheated children don't realize they will need them again, says Neil S. Hoffman, developmental psychologist with the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

"Adults think about it as in, 'Put on a coat. It's March. You'll catch cold.' But if kids are not freezing, they don't think about the coat," he said.

Few items, he said, are purposely lost, though some are purposely unclaimed.

Sal Maggio and other pupil-personnel workers in Anne Arundel schools use lost and founds to restock their supplies for needy children. Maggio takes the best of the leftovers, finds dry cleaners to launder them free and washes some himself.

"I try to keep a little inventory in my home," he said, which includes a dozen stylish jackets on a basement rack. "It's bad enough being poor without having people give you a piece of junk."

Most schools keep small valuables separate. While picking through a carton of watches, key rings and a tangle of cheap necklaces at Sunset, fourth-grade teacher Karen Schob shrieked, "Those are my glasses!"

When did she lose them? "I don't know." Where? "I don't know. I must have put them down." When did she notice they were gone? "I don't know."

She sounded, she reflected, a lot like her students.

Pub Date: 6/14/96

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